The History of Fluoride in Dentistry

Fluoride is a common part of toothpastes, mouthwashes and many public water supplies. It now even appears in dental floss and is a proven cavity fighter. Restoring enamel and destroying bacteria, the discovery of fluoride’s beneficial nature was only made within the last century and is one of dentistry’s great public health breakthroughs. How was fluoride found to be a boon to our teeth?

Dr. Frederick McKay, a Colorado Springs dentist at the turn of the last century, noted that the residents of his adopted town had little tooth decay, despite the typical bad oral hygiene habits of the early 1900’s. Curious as to why, he consistently followed up leads around the country when communities with similar circumstances were mentioned in newspapers or dental literature. A trip to Oakley, Idaho, in 1923 pointed to the water supply as the likely reason for teeth that were strong and without cavities. At the time, however, McKay did not have the ability to determine what it was so special about the water.

Another town reported the phenomena in 1931 – Bauxite, Arkansas. This was an ALCOA aluminum mining town and a company chemist, H.V. Churchill, tested the water using photospectrographic analysis — an advanced technique at that time. The unusual element in the water turned out to be fluoride. McKay’s thirty-year effort to discover the cause of the strong teeth in Colorado Springs was finally fulfilled!

National scientists immediately studied fluoride in relation to dental health. They determined that very small amounts, less than two parts per million, were enough to produce good results in any water supply. With no major side effects noted, many municipal water supplies began including fluoride when the local water did not have a high enough natural concentration. Fluoride was added to toothpastes as well and rates of tooth decay began to drop around the country.

The discovery of fluoride and its dental advantages led to one of the greatest public health advances in the United States. Literally millions of cavities are avoided due to fluoride’s widespread use. Look for another article on fluoride’s benefits as preventative medicine in the near future on the website of the Placerville Dental Group — your dentists in Placerville!


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