Attention, residents of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County: You and your families will soon be at higher risk for tooth decay. In a surprising move, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority Board in January voted to stop adding fluoride to the public water supply by the end of the year.
Although our water supply contains some naturally occurring fluoride, fluoride levels are too low in most of the county to prevent tooth decay. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined the optimum level of fluoride in water to be 0.7 mg/liter. Yet only 35% of Bernalillo County’s water distribution zones meet this level. (See this map of ABQ-Bernalillo County’s naturally occurring fluoride levels.)
Fluoridating public water supplies and using fluoride dental products can improve oral health and produce several benefits:
- Fewer cavities and less severe cavities.
- Less need for fillings and tooth extractions.
- Less pain and suffering associated with tooth decay.
Thirty-four percent of New Mexico’s third-graders suffer from untreated tooth decay, compared to the national rate of 23%. Hispanic and Black children and those living in families with lower incomes have more decay. Reducing water fluoride levels could make that worse.
The water utility board’s action recently was brought to the attention of the New Mexico Oral Health Advisory Council (NMOHAC), of which I am a member. The NMOHAC includes dental health care providers, state officials and others committed to improving oral health and access to dental services. The NMOHAC is considering how to address this issue.
Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, public water supplies must contain no more than 2.0 mg/liter of fluoride. There is no federal minimum for water fluoride levels.
For more information on fluoridation and the nationally recommended standard:
- Community Water Fluoridation: Questions and Answers:
- Press Release on HHS/CDC recommendation: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2011pres/01/20110107a.html