Community water fluoridation : is it still worthwhile
Gussy, Mark, Gold, Lisa, Riggs, Elisha, Waters, Elizabeth and Kilpatrick, Nicky 2008, Community water fluoridation : is it still worthwhile, Just policy: a journal of Australian social policy, no. 47, pp. 14-21.
Community Water Fluoridation (CWF) is the adjustment of fluoride concentration in community drinking water to a level that confers optimal protection from dental caries (Truman et al 2002). It is supported by many authorities as the single most effective public health measure for reducing dental caries (DHS 2007). It has consistently been shown to be effective in reducing the prevalence and severity of dental caries in populations following its introduction (NHMRC 1999). The most dramatic reductions (50-60%) were demonstrated in the earlier studies although more recent research has still shown reductions of between 30 and 50% (Truman et al 2002). Despite the strong scientific evidence for its beneficial effects and safety the issue of the appropriateness of CWF is often the focus of public debate. Proponents argue that it reduces dental caries. is safe and cost effective. and that it provides significant benefits to all social classes (Slade et al 1995: Slade et a 1996: Spencer et al 1996). Opponents question its efficacy and safety and argue that its addition to community water supplies is unethical mass medication (Colquhoun 1990: Diesendorf 1986: Diesendorf et al 1997).
More recently, however, there have been important questions raised regarding the continuing benefit of CWF over and above that produced by the widespread use of other sources of fluoride (toothpaste. mouth rinses. varnish and other professionally applied fluorides). Generally, dental caries has declined steeply in the last thirty years and many have observed that dental caries has also reduced in parts of Australia and other countries where there has never been CWF or where it has ceased. It has been suggested that because of the current low population levels of dental caries and the increase in alternate sources of fluoride, CWF no longer offers the benefits it may have in the past. Given this notion, together with the concerns of a minority subgroup of the population regarding the safety of CWF, it is valuable to examine current evidence to answer the question: Is there still a role for CWF in Australia?
This paper will firstly examine the history of water fluoridation and its mechanisms of action. Secondly. trends in dental decay experience over the last three decades with particular emphasis on social and geographical inequities in Australia will be described. We also review the current state of scientific evidence for the benefits of CWF including the contribution it makes to the reduction of oral health inequalities. In light of this we will provide a response to the question posed above.
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