The Obama administration today announced the first limits in 50 years on fluoride in drinking water, saying the mineral is damaging children's teeth.
The Department of Health and Human Services said drinking water should contain 0.7 milligrams of fluoride, the lowest amount recommended by U.S. EPA.
This adjustment "will help us make sure that people benefit from tooth decay prevention while at the same time avoiding the unwanted health effects from too much fluoride," said Peter Silva, EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Water.
As part of a strategy to prevent tooth decay, more than 72 percent of Americans on public systems drink fluoridated water, but children who get too much of the mineral while their teeth are forming are susceptible to fluorosis, which discolors and damages tooth enamel.
Although fluoridation has been hailed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century, critics say today's children are overexposed to the mineral.
"They are getting four times more fluoride than the original promoters of fluoridation intended," said Paul Connett, executive director of Fluoride Action Network, an advocacy group.
Only nine countries provide fluoridated water to their citizens. Although European countries do not, their cavity and tooth decay rates are comparable to those in the United States.
Many other factors, such as the use of too much toothpaste, could be increasing tooth discoloration. Advertisements depicting toothbrushes loaded with toothpaste might be part of the problem.
"Parents need to monitor the amount of toothpaste their children use," John Liu, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry said. "A pea-sized amount is the best way to prevent the white spots" (Michelle Fay Cortez/Alex Wayne), Bloomberg Businessweek, Jan. 7). -- PK