This winter marks the 70th anniversary of community water fluoridation in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) heralded it, “one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th Century” (Community Water Fluoridation, 2013).
The term “community water fluoridation” means fluoride levels are adjusted in an area’s public water supply to help prevent tooth decay and improve oral health. “Water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by about 25% over a person’s lifetime,” (Community Water Fluoridation, 2013).
In 1945, Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the first city in the world to receive additional fluoride in their public water supply (Community Water Fluoridation, 2013). Before this occurred, extensive research was done. Dr. H. Trendley Dean, head of the Dental Hygiene Unit at the National Institutes of Health, was among the first to study fluoride with the help of his research team. After developing a new method of measuring fluoride levels, the team began testing water across the country (Statement on Water Fluoridation, 2004). It was found that fluoride measures up to 1 part per million in drinking water did not cause enamel fluorosis, or brown spots occurring on teeth (Statement on Water Fluoridation, 2004). Then the Michigan Department of Health voted to add fluoride to their drinking water (Statement on Water Fluoridation, 2004).
Today, over 204 million people, 74%, in the United States consume water supplies containing enough fluoride to enhance oral health (Community Water Fluoridation, 2013). In North Carolina, about 87% of people have access to fluoridated water supplies (Community Water Fluoridation, 2013). Charlotte was the first city in the state to fluoridate its water in 1949 (Gerald, 2012). The NC Department of Health and Human Services says dental decay rates in children living in North Carolina were reduced by about 60% after the introduction of fluoridated water in the state.
Several years after the first water fluoridation treatments began in North Carolina; Pitt County started adding fluoride to the area’s water. According to Julius Patrick, Greenville Utility Commission’s Water Treatment Plant Superintendent, Greenville began adding fluoride to water supplies in 1957. He also says Greenville’s water comes from the Tar River which naturally contains .1 mg/l of fluoride. Patrick oversees the team as they filter this water and then add fluoride. In addition, Patrick says the water plant conducts a daily analysis measuring substances in water in parts per billion. This fluoridated water reaches many in the Pitt County area. For example, when the CDC collected data via a fluoridation census in 1992, it was found that over 47,000 Greenville residents were provided with fluoridated water.
Due to the research of the inquisitive Dr. Dean over 70 years ago, the United States will continue to boast more favorable oral hygiene thanks to the discovery of community water fluoridation.