Faculty and Staff, Research

Slade and Sanders’ Research Affirms Water Fluoridation Prevents Dental Decay in US Children and Adolescents

Gary Slade, DDPH, PhD, John W. Stamm Distinguished Professor and Anne Sanders, MS, PhD, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry, are lead authors of a study that examines the impact of water fluoridation on oral health in the United States population.

The fluoridation of drinking water in America was considered one of the great public health achievements of the twentieth century. However, few studies have investigated the impact of fluoridation on oral health in the last thirty years.

Slade and Sanders’ large study evaluated associations between availability of community water fluoridation and tooth decay experience among children and adolescents across the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Water Fluoridation Reporting System provided county-level estimates of the percentage of population with community water fluoridation. Slade and Sanders merged this data with ten years of National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (1999-2004 and 2011-2014).

Their analysis indicated that children with greater access to fluoridated water were less likely to experience tooth decay. Counties where more than 75 percent of the population had access to fluoridated water saw a 30 percent decrease in tooth decay in primary teeth, and a 12 percent decrease in tooth decay in adolescent teeth, compared to county populations which had less access to fluoridated water.

“This is the first nationally-representative study to show a preventive benefit of water fluoridation in pre-school children,” said Dr. Slade. “Preventing dental decay early in life is by far the best way for kids to grow up with healthy teeth.”

“Another benefit of water fluoridation is that it targets the whole population without regard to disease risk status, or children’s ability to access health care,” said Sanders.

These findings support research over the last half-century that shows that community water fluoridation continues to provide a substantial oral health benefit for children and adolescents in the United States. The research also augments those findings by indicating the benefit of fluoridation is most significant early in life, in the primary teeth of 2-8 year olds.

Authors of the study “Water fluoridation and dental caries in U.S. children and adolescents,” are Slade and Sanders from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry, William Grider from the U.S. Census Bureau and William Maas from the Dental Public Health Consultant.

This study was selected for publication in the Journal of Dental Research. You may read more online here.

Map of fluoride levels by county in the United States