Community water fluoridation effectively reduces oral health disparities among children in the United States, according to Anne Sanders, PhD, associate professor with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Adams School of Dentistry Department of Dental Ecology.
Children experienced less dental decay in counties where at least 75% of the population was served by fluoridated water than children in counties with lower fluoridation coverage, regardless of household income, according to Sanders’ study.
The protective benefit also increased as household income decreased. Water fluoridation produced greater dental health benefits in middle-income families than in high-income families, with even greater benefits for low-income families.
“Income-related disparities in dental decay have persisted for decades, and efforts to reduce health disparities are at the forefront of national health goals,” said Sanders. “Water fluoridation is unique as a preventive strategy against decay in that it preferentially benefits children living in low-income households.”
The nationally representative study was the first of its kind, according to Sanders. It included more than 11,000 children who received a dental examination in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Each child’s address was linked to the Center for Disease Control’s Water Fluoridation Reporting System to determine its fluoridation status.
Previous studies indicated greater rates of dental decay among children in low-income households compared to children in high-income households. The researchers investigated whether that disparity was reduced in fluoridated areas.
“Approximately 115 million Americans have drinking water that is not fluoridated,” said coauthor and John W. Stamm Distinguished Professor Gary Slade, BDSc, PhD. “The study’s findings provider support for efforts to expand coverage of fluoridation to the entire US population.”
The study, “Association Between Water Fluoridation and Income-Related Dental Caries of US Children and Adolescents,” was published by JAMA Pediatrics.