In the recent heatwave I am sure we have been drinking a lot more water than usual – probably closer to our recommended 6-8 glasses a day. I’m lucky – I genuinely love water so I don’t struggle to drink enough of it but I know many of us have to make a real effort to do so. Patients often ask me if they should be drinking water from the tap or buying bottled water. Generally speaking tap water contains less salt than bottled water, which is a good thing and of course it’s much cheaper. If you are drinking from the tap you don’t need to worry about plastic waste either. From a dentist’s point of view however, the most important feature of tap water in the UK is that it contains fluoride.
Fluoride is a great way to fight tooth decay, which is one of the most common reasons children are admitted to hospital. Decay occurs when acid, produced by bacteria in plaque when you eat sugary foods, attacks the surface of your teeth. Fluoride disrupts this process. It changes the structure of developing enamel to make it more resistant and reducing plaque’s ability to produce acid.
In the early 20th century, it was discovered that lower levels of tooth decay corresponded with certain levels of fluoride in drinking water. This led to fluoride being added to toothpastes to help teeth resist daily damage caused by acidic food and to help prevent tooth decay. Birmingham was first area in the UK to add fluoride to drinking water in the 1960s. Other parts of the Midlands, the North West, North East, Yorkshire and The Humber quickly followed on.
Mass fluoridation has always attracted controversy, with some claims that it is harmful to health. However, in these miniscule quantities and after more than 60 years of research, there is no medical evidence of it having any harmful side effects. There’s plenty of evidence for its benefits. According to the Oral Health Foundation, adding fluoride to water has been proven to reduce tooth decay by 40 to 60%. This is just one more reason for us all to be knocking back more glasses of water and fewer acidic fizzy drinks and juices.