Then and Now: The History of Fluoride

Closeup of patient getting fluoride treatmentFluoride is widely known for its ability to help prevent decay. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named its addition to the water supply one of the top 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century! Furthermore, its effectiveness is backed by the American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and many professional organizations. But how exactly did this anti-cavity mineral come about? Keep reading to learn all about the history of fluoride.

A Curious Beginning

When Frederick McKay, a young dental school graduate, moved to Colorado Springs in 1901, his goal was simply to open his own dental practice. As fate would have it, he ended up discovering a unique condition among his patients: dental fluorosis. Before it had a name, he simply knew that his local patients suffered from unique, pigmented, brown stains on their teeth. Although cosmetically imperfect, he soon discovered (with the help of a dental researcher, Dr. G.V. Black) that the teeth were highly resistant to tooth decay.

A Few Important Discoveries

After roughly two decades of constant study, McKay heard of an uptick of cases of tooth mottling (dental fluorosis) in Idaho. When he discovered that the town was using a water pipeline, he recommended that they instead use a nearby spring. Shortly after, the brown stains disappeared. Although he still didn’t know the exact cause, he had taken a significant step closer to the answer.

With a chief chemist, McKay analyzed the water of another town whose residents were suffering with pigmented, brown dental discoloration. The results? High levels of fluoride. Shortly after, a state-of-the-art method for measuring fluoride in water was invented to help prevent patients from experiencing dental fluorosis.

So, Is Fluoride Good or Bad?

Right now, you might be thinking, “So, shouldn’t I be avoiding fluoride?” In short, the answer is no. Fluoride levels up to 1.0 ppm cannot cause dental fluorosis. Adding fluoride at a safe level provides the public with the benefits (prevention of tooth decay) without the risk (dark brown stains). Proof of this is evident from a 15-year study that found the cavity rate among children with access to fluoridated water was down by over 60%! As a result, this decay-fighting mineral is a staple in the world of dentistry. Not only has it been added to the public water supply, but it also is in many popular toothpastes and mouthwashes as well.

Although the discovery of fluoride and its impact on teeth is quite curious, it ultimately benefits patients today by helping prevent tooth decay. If you want to learn more about why it’s advantageous to your oral health, then get in touch with your dentist!

About the Practice

Our team at West Brookfield Dental is here to help you with all of your dental needs, from dental implants to emergency dentistry. Plus, we offer meticulous checkups, thorough cleanings, and other essential preventive treatments to help keep your teeth and gums in tip-top shape. If you have a question about fluoride or you’d simply like to schedule an appointment, don’t hesitate to visit our website or call (508) 867-2777.


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