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Oral Health Services

Fluoride Overview

Community Water Fluoridation has been cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the top ten greatest public health achievements of the 20th century for making a difference in the amount of dental decay (cavities) experienced by individuals.

January 25, 2005 marked the 60th anniversary of community water fluoridation, which is the practice of adjusting the naturally occurring level of fluoride to an optimal level to prevent the occurrence of tooth decay. That same year, the CDC named community water fluoridation as one of our nation's Top Ten Public Health Achievements.

Information About Fluoride

Visit these websites for more information about fluoride:

In March 2012, Tennessee celebrated 61 years of this public health practice with Milan, Tennessee being the first community in Tennessee to adjust the fluoride level in their community drinking water, thereby providing a dental health benefit to all of its citizens. Today 91.4 percent of Tennesseans have access to optimally fluoridated water.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention values the long-standing partnership between the State of Tennessee and federal programs that promote good oral health for the people in Tennessee, and recognizes the leadership demonstrated by the State of Tennessee related to community water fluoridation.

The practice of community water fluoridation continues to grow in the United States. The CDC’s National Oral Health Surveillance System shows that in 2006, 69.2 percent of the population on public water systems received fluoridated water and 30.8 percent received nonfluoridated water, and from 2007 to 2009, 96 communities in 34 states opted to provide fluoridated water to their residents.

Tooth decay is the commonly known term for dental caries. Tooth decay is a transmissible infection which is caused by bacteria, and is preventable. If left untreated, tooth decay can damage the tooth by creating a cavity. A cavity left untreated can lead to pain in the mouth and face and may even develop into infections in surrounding tissues and ultimately lead to tooth loss if not cared for properly.

On May 25, 2000, US Surgeon General, David Satcher, MD, delivered the first-ever Surgeon General’s report on oral health. This report identified a "silent epidemic" of dental and oral diseases that burdens some population groups and calls for a national effort to improve oral health among all Americans. The report, commissioned by Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala, also focuses on the relationship between oral health and overall good health throughout life, the mouth as a "mirror for general health and well-being and the association between oral health problems and other health problems." (1) Secretary Shalala also describes the health disparities evident in oral health.

Major barriers to oral health include socioeconomic factors, such as lack of dental insurance or the inability to pay out of pocket, and access problems including a lack of transportation or the ability to take time off work to seek care. While about 44 million Americans lack medical insurance, about 108 million lack dental insurance. Only 60 percent of baby boomers receive dental insurance through their employers, while most older workers lose their dental insurance at retirement. Meanwhile, uninsured children are 2.5 times less likely to receive dental care than insured children, and children from families without dental insurance are three times as likely to have dental needs compared to their insured peers.

"We also found that, safe and effective measures for preventing oral disease exist, including water fluoridation, dental sealants, proper diet, and regular professional care, as well as tobacco cessation. However, they are underused. For example, 100 million Americans do not have fluoridated water. And the smoking rate in America remains at about 23 percent, even though practically every Surgeon General's report on tobacco since 1964 has established the connection between tobacco use and oral diseases."

"The Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health provides important reminders that oral health means more than sound teeth. Oral health is integral to overall health. Furthermore, safe and effective disease prevention measures exist that everyone can adopt to improve oral health and prevent disease."(3)

1 US Department of Health & Human Services,
2 Ibid