SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • dental caries;
  • fluoride;
  • fluoridation;
  • socioeconomic status;
  • public health policy

Abstract

The overall reduction in caries prevalence and severity in the United States over recent decades is largely due to widespread exposure to fluoride, most notably from the fluoridation of drinking waters. Despite this overall reduction, however, caries distribution today remains skewed, with the poor and deprived carrying a disproportionate share of the disease burden. Dental caries, like many other diseases, is directly related to low socioeconomic status (SES). In some communities, however, caries experience has now diminished to the point where the need for continuing water fluoridation is being questioned. This paper argues that water fluoridation is still needed because it is the most effective and practical method of reducing the SES-based disparities in the burden of dental caries. There is no practical alternative to water fluoridation for reducing these disparities in the United States. For example, a school dental service, like those in many other high-income countries, would require the allocation of substantial public resources, and as such is not likely to occur soon. But studies in the United States, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand have demonstrated that fluoridation not only reduces the overall prevalence and severity of caries, but also reduces the disparities between SES groups. Water fluoridation has been named as one of the 10 major public health achievements of the 20th century by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and promoting it is a Healthy People objective for the year 2010. Within the social context of the United States, water fluoridation is probably the most significant step we can take toward reducing the disparities in dental caries. It therefore should remain as a public health priority.