From Tooth Mottling to Water Bottling: The Strange History of Fluoride

October 13, 2023

Filed under: News — Elmbrook Family Dental @ 5:29 pm
Cartoon tooth enjoys fluoride

Fluoride is a common mineral with astounding dental health benefits. Because of this, it is widely used as an additive in community water supplies. Due to its low cost and effectiveness in preventing tooth decay, the American Dental Association and the World Health Organization advocate for the fluoridation of public water. Here’s some of the interesting history of fluoride in the field of dentistry.

Tooth Mottling in Colorado

A young dental school graduate by the name of Frederick McKay moved to Colorado Springs to open a dental practice in 1901. As he began practicing dentistry there, he found that many of the people in town had strange brown stains on their teeth. These stains could be so dark that they looked almost like dark chocolate. McKay began searching for their cause.

McKay invited Dr. G.V. Black to assist in his investigation of the strange stains affecting the community of Colorado Springs. The two worked together for six years, finding that one in ten children born in Colorado Springs had these brown stains and, interestingly, that teeth with these stains were incredibly resistant to tooth decay. They named this brown stain tooth mottling and documented its cavity-fighting effects.

Then, in Oakley, Idaho…

McKay left Colorado Springs in 1923 to investigate a sudden increase in tooth mottling in Oakley, Idaho. Local parents informed him that brown stains began appearing soon after a communal water pipeline was constructed to bring water from a warm spring five miles away. McKay recommended that the town switch to another spring, and the stains vanished after the town complied.

Aluminum in Arkansas

The residents of Bauxite, Arkansas suffered from mottled teeth while people in nearby towns did not. McKay recommended that the town conduct a study of the local water supply. Chemist H.V. Churchill examined the water and found that it contained high levels of fluoride. When McKay learned of these results, he studied the water in Colorado Springs and Oakley and found similar fluoride levels. Fluoride was determined to be the cause of these strange brown stains.

Studying Fluoride

The National Institute of Health concluded that fluoride in the water supply could not stain teeth when kept below a certain level. Upon reviewing McKay’s work, Dr. Trendley Dean hypothesized that safe levels of fluoride in the water supply could help prevent tooth decay. In 1945, the people of Grand Rapids Michigan voted to fortify their drinking water with fluoride. Eleven years later, Dean declared that the cavity rate in children had decreased by more than 60%. This leap in dental science revolutionized the way people take care of their teeth.

Today, fluoridation of the water supply costs about a dollar per person while dealing with one person’s tooth decay can cost thousands of dollars to treat. If your town does not fluoridate its water supply, using fluoridated toothpaste can help make up the difference to keep your teeth healthy and strong.

About the Practice

Elmbrook Family Dental provides families in Brookfield, WI with everything they need to keep their smiles healthy. Led by an experienced team of seven dentists, the dedicated staff takes continuing education courses while equipping both locations with the latest technology. Areas of expertise include general, restorative, cosmetic, and emergency dentistry. For more information on the benefits of fluoride, contact the office online.

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