The Debate Over Fluoridated Water

The debate over fluoridation goes back roughly 75 years to when communities began fluoridating water to prevent tooth decay. The issue: Is fluoridated water better for your health or not?

Pro - Fluoride
What public health experts say

With over seven decades of evidence, every major health organization agrees: fluoridated water protects your teeth without posing risks to your health. While almost all water contains naturally-occurring fluoride, the community water systems that serve most American households adjust the level, usually by adding fluoride to reach the right amount to reduce tooth decay.

Health organizations say fluoride from water and toothpaste is the main reason most people no longer need the dentures that were so common before widespread fluoridation. Studies show that is why dental costs are lower and oral health problems have declined in fluoridated communities. Healthier mouths benefit our overall health and quality of life.

Water fluoridation is an inexpensive way to ensure that prevention reaches everyone within a community. Every time a fluoridation law has been challenged legally based on the “personal freedom” argument, courts have recognized the right of community leaders to make this decision. In addition, individuals are free to filter out the fluoride or buy non-fluoridated bottled water if they so choose.

Recent studies have offered different conclusions about whether fluoride negatively affects people’s cognitive abilities. Some studies found a negative effect, but others showed that fluoride has no effect or even a positive effect. The National Academies of Science reviewed a draft report with a large number of these studies and concluded that the report failed to provide “a clear and convincing argument” that fluoride harmed cognitive development.

Anti - Fluoride
What fluoride opponents say

Opponents want to take fluoride out of drinking water for a variety of reasons. Many contend that fluoridation violates their individual freedoms. Some opponents believe and share conspiracy theories about fluoride. Some even say community water fluoridation does not reduce tooth decay at all. However, the leading criticism that opponents make is that fluoridated water is not safe.

Opponents blame community water fluoridation for a wide range of health problems, from bone cancer to acne. In recent years, critics have focused on claims that fluoride has effects on the cognitive ability of children. Although leading scientific organizations — the National Academies of Science and the Canadian Agency for Drugs & Technologies in Health — have rejected such claims, opponents continue to voice concern about this issue by citing numerous studies. Many of these studies were conducted in countries like China, India and Iran where the amount of fluoride in water often reaches a level that far exceeds the levels in a fluoridated community in North America. More recently published studies of communities in North America have been have been called into question over flaws and potential bias in research methods.

Opponents say that momentum to put an end to water fluoridation is in their favor, pointing to communities that have removed fluoride in recent years. However, the third-largest city in Canada voted in November 2021 to resume water fluoridation, citing concern about deteriorating dental health after the practice had stopped in 2011.