2020 marks the 75th anniversary of water fluoridation.  In that time, the addition of small amounts of the mineral fluoride to public water supplies has proven to prevent, and even reverse, tooth decay.  Indeed, water fluoridation has been recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century!

Fluoridation in the OCWA System

Water fluoridation is regulated at both the local and state levels.  The Onondaga County Health Department requires that fluoride be added to all public water supplies serving the County of Onondaga.  The amount of fluoride is then regulated by the New York State Department of Health which recommends a target feed rate of 0.7 mg/l, which is less than one part per million of water. To put that amount in context, it is equivalent to one inch in 23 miles, one second in 15 days, or one minute in two and a half years.

OCWA adds small amounts of fluoride to its water supply at both its water treatment plants—Otisco Lake and Lake Ontario.  The naturally-occurring mineral is added after the water is disinfected and filtered.  In addition, the City of Syracuse adds fluoride to its Skaneateles Lake water supply.  The level of fluoride dilution is regularly monitored and tested to ensure that all of 500,000 Central New York residents who are served by OCWA receive optimally fluoridated water.

Benefits of Water Fluoridation

  • Water fluoridation prevents tooth decay mainly by providing teeth with frequent contact with low levels of fluoride throughout each day and throughout life. Fluoride helps to remineralize tooth surfaces and prevents cavities from continuing to form. Even today, with other available sources of fluoride, studies show that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by about 25 percent over a person’s lifetime.
  • Community water fluoridation is safe, effective, and also cost-saving. It is the least expensive way to deliver the benefits of fluoride to all residents of a community. It is also cost-effective because every $1 invested in this preventive measure yields approximately $38 savings in dental treatment costs.
  • Community water fluoridation benefits all people– regardless of age, income, education, or socioeconomic status. A person’s income and ability to get routine dental care are not barriers since all residents of a community can enjoy fluoride’s protective benefits just by drinking tap water and consuming foods and beverages prepared with it.

The widespread availability of fluoride through water fluoridation, toothpaste, and other sources has resulted in the steady decline of dental caries throughout the United States.

Studies continue to show that widespread community water fluoridation prevents cavities and saves money, both for families and the health care system.

Background on Fluoridation

Tooth decay is caused by certain bacteria in the mouth. When a person eats sugar and other refined carbohydrates, these bacteria produce acid that removes minerals from the surface of the tooth.

Fluoride from other sources prevents tooth decay as well, whether from toothpaste, mouth rinses, professionally applied fluoride treatments, or prescription fluoride supplements. These methods of delivering fluoride, however, are more costly than water fluoridation and require a conscious decision to use them.

Extensive scientific studies and comprehensive reviews have continually recognized fluoridation as an effective and safe way to prevent tooth decay.