Fluoride – Nature Thought of it First

By Dr. Kurt Ferre

Fluoride is the natural cavity fighter.  It is the 13th most common element in the Earth’s crust and is found at varying concentrations in all drinking water and soil. Dr. Fredrick McKay, a young dentist, discovered the miracle of fluoride in the early 20th century.   He had recently moved to Colorado Springs and observed that although many of his patients had unsightly spots on their teeth, they had far fewer cavities than his patients back in the eastern United States where he was trained.

With the help of dentist pioneer, Dr. G. V. Black, they discovered that the decay rate was related to the naturally occurring fluoride in the water.  The problem was that in Colorado Springs the concentration was 10 parts per million, which caused the unsightly spots called fluorosis.  Dr. McKay and Dr. Black hypothesized that if the concentration were lower, then, the protective benefit of fluoride could still be achieved without the unsightly spots on the teeth.  After years of observational studies of water supplies around the country, they arrived at the concentration of 1 part per million.

In January, 1945 Grand Rapids, Michigan was the first city in theUnited Statesto add fluoride (called fluoridation) to its public water supply.  The results were dramatic.  In 10 years the cavity rate dropped 65% for 12-year old children!  It is estimated that fluoridation has saved over $40 billion and countless hours of pain and suffering for Americans.

So, how does fluoride work?  Studies have demonstrated that fluoride has both a pre-eruptive (systemic) effect and a post-eruptive (topical) effect.  Therefore, after teeth have erupted into the mouth, the primary action of the fluoride is topical for both children and adults.  When consumed in optimal amounts in water and food, and used topically in toothpastes, mouth rinses, and dental office treatments, fluoride: 1) increases tooth mineralization; 2) reduces the risk of cavities; and 3) promotes enamel remineralization throughout life for all individuals.

Sadly, Oregon is ranked 48th out of 50 states in percent of its public water supplies that have controlled amounts of fluoride added to the water.   In communities without fluoridation, the American Dental Association and American Pediatric Society recommend dietary fluoride supplements for children from the ages of 6 months through 14 years.  Parents should talk to their pediatrician or dentist about getting a prescription for their children.

With education, prevention, and access to care, cavities are a preventable disease, and fluoride will benefit everyone, not just children.

Remember, “Got teeth, get fluoride”.


Dr. Ferré is a 1976 graduate of Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago.  He retired in December, 2008, after a 28 ½ year career with Permanente Dental Associates in Portland. He is past-president of the Multnomah Dental Society, and he currently serves on the board of directors for the Oregon Oral Health Coalition, the Oregon Dental Association’s Government Relations Council, and the dental advisory board for Medical Teams International (MTI). In addition to his volunteer work at the Creston Children’s Dental Clinic, he is a regular volunteer on a MTI mobile dental around the Portland metropolitan area.


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