Water fluoridation is the process of adding fluoride to drinking water supplies. Fluoridation is widely practised in Australia and the evidence shows that levels of tooth decay in children are halved when this practice is used.
Fluoride is maintained at safe levels that cause no harm when ingested, but misconceptions about the process are still widespread. Listening to these myths rather than your dentist can increase your family's risks of tooth decay and needing treatments such as fillings or root canal therapy in the future.
Here are some of the most common myths about fluoride and why they're not true.
Myth 1: Fluoride increases cancer risks
One of the most common rumours about fluoride is that it causes cancer, or various other diseases and disorders.
The truth is: no scientific study has demonstrated a link between water fluoridation and cancer. The latest review of evidence by Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in 2017 recommended that water fluoridation continue to be practised.
The only studies that have found a positive association between fluoride and cancer involve levels of fluoride much greater than are present in local water supplies. These are also considered dubious as they did not involve human subjects and subsequent studies have not been able to repeat the same results.
In fact, you may be more likely to develop health problems if you avoid fluoride and develop oral health problems as a result. This is because problems such as gum disease are linked with a higher risk of developing oral cancer and other serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Myth 2: Fluoride is not safe for children
Water fluoridation is approved as a safe and effective means of lowering oral health risks for children of all ages, including babies when fluoridated water is combined with milk formula. Fluoridated water is also safe during pregnancy.
The only known side effect of water fluoridation for children is a condition known as fluorosis. This is a cosmetic issue that can affect the colour of teeth if too much fluoride is ingested, but does not affect oral health or general health.
Fluorosis can be prevented by ensuring that kids don't swallow toothpaste or using special low-fluoride toothpaste for young children. Tap water alone does not contain fluoride at high enough concentrations to cause fluorosis or any other adverse effects.
Myth 3: Fluoride is banned in many countries
Many countries choose not to add fluoride to water supplies, but that doesn't necessarily mean they consider fluoride to be a hazard.
In some cases, such as China, this is because fluoride levels are already higher than recommended. Other countries practise alternative methods of fluoridation, such as adding fluoride to table salt, to ensure that the benefits of fluoride are still received in daily life.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring nutrient that is present in many water supplies and managed at safe levels to fight plaque and lower rates of tooth decay and other problems. Talk to your dentist to find out whether you and your family are getting the right level of fluoride to keep your teeth and gums healthy.