The shifting baseline syndrome was identified by marine biologist Daniel Pauly, and it applies as readily to our oral health as it does our oceans’ health. In essence, the shifting baseline is that each generation perceives the world that he or she grew up in as normal.
For Pauly, the shifting baseline had ecological implications; people didn’t realise, for example, that what they perceived as average levels of aquatic plants and animals were in fact extremely depleted compared to previous generations. When it comes to our dental health, fluoride is a frequent victim of the shifting baseline (as well as of plain old misinformation).
A new Australian study reminds us of fluoride’s benefits, and it emerges amid a renewed national debate over water fluoridation.
Fluoride Prevents Cavities
Cavities and gum disease remain significant health problems. As we noted in a blog post earlier this year, nearly half of Australian children experience tooth decay. Prior to widespread water fluoridation, however, tooth decay was rampant; tooth extractions were common, and people rarely made it into adulthood with all of their natural teeth in place.
A recent study released by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) focused on the health effects of water fluoridation, and it reinforced prior research demonstrating fluoridation’s positive health effects. Specifically, the study shows again that fluoridation results in a decline in decay of children’s baby teeth and permanent teeth.
The study also debunked some popular myths about fluoridation. Researchers found no evidence that water fluoridated at the recommended levels increased the risk for dental fluorosis (in which teeth become mottled or stained due to overmineralization), developmental disabilities or other serious health concerns.
It should be noted that the report says their level of confidence in most of the studies is low. However, there is high confidence in studies that show no impact on intelligence or hip fractures.
Other Fluoride Benefits
Since water fluoridation in Australia began in the 1950s, the NHMRC states that Australians born after 1970 have presented half the level of tooth decay of their parents’ generations. This cavity prevention via fluoridation offers additional benefits:
- Healthy teeth help support healthy gums and prevent long-term dental problems associated with decayed or missing teeth
- Fluoridation helps protect people of all ages against cavities
- Fluoridation is a low-cost, high-reward endeavor; the investment in fluoridation pays off in savings related to dental treatments for preventable tooth decay and gum disease
Though fluoride is naturally present in water, being one of the most common minerals on earth, the fluoride levels vary from trace to toxic. Slightly increasing the amount of fluoride in municipal water has proven health benefits, and it is similar to fortifying foods and beverages with calcium, vitamins and other nutrients. In other places, fluoride has to be removed to make the water safe to drink.
Ebb and Fluoride
The NHMRC study arrives as some communities debate whether to maintain water fluoridation, and one decided to discontinue fluoridating its water supply. Earlier this month, the Gladstone Regional Council voted to turn off the fluoride taps that long fed the area’s drinking water.
The move drew criticism from the Australian Dental Association (ADA), which along with other leading health organizations hails fluoridation as one of the great public health achievements of the 20th century. One dentist and ADA member warned of a looming baseline shift in communities that follow suit, saying that in another 10 years residents may begin to exhibit the adverse effects that fueled fluoridation’s initial necessity.
The Sydney dentists at My Hills Dentist understand the importance of your oral health to your overall health, and we’re dedicated to providing personalised treatment to help you maintain a beautiful, healthy smile for life. If you’re considering cosmetic dentistry treatment or you’re due for a checkup and teeth cleaning, please call us at (02) 9686 7375 to schedule your appointment at our Baulkham Hills office.