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The History Of Fluoride

Recently, Dr. Willard VerMeulen, a retired dentist from Grand Rapids, was asked what it was like practicing dentistry before the advent of floridation of the water supply to reduce decay. He said: “Back in the 1930’s many school children would have a mouthful of rotted stubs and tooth abscesses. I did many full dentures on young people in the 14 – 20 year old group. It was not uncommon for young ladies to get full dentures to look nice for their boyfriends.”

As a dentist in practice now, this is hard to fathom. Other pre-fluoride statistics include facts like, in 1938 the US military required only 6 teeth on the top and 6 on the bottom to qualify for entrance. Even then, 10% were rejected! In WWII, 40% of young draftees required immediate treatment for relief of pain. Adding fluoride to the drinking water has stopped all of this suffering. Here is how it all got started:

Fluoride is a natural substance that is found in much of the food that we eat. In the 1930’s, it was found that certain people that had mottled (brown stained) teeth, had absolutely no cavities. The cause was found to be a high concentration of fluoride, 14 parts per million (ppm) in their water. Nine million Americans were found who had naturally-fluoridated water. They were studied for 10 years with lab tests, and physical exams and no adverse affects were found except the mottled enamel even with those high, amounts of fluoride in their water. Subsequent tests showed that 1.0 ppm might be the optimum amount to stop decay since in Michigan the town of Fowlerville (in 1944) had 1.6ppm in their water and had 66% fewer cavities than Maple Rapids which had no fluoride in the water.

The big study started in 1945 with Grand Rapids adding 1.0 ppm to the water and using Muskegon as the control which had no fluoride in the water. In 1950 they began doing exams on kindergarteners and found many children in Grand Rapids that had no cavities at all and overall a 60 – 65% reduction in decay. After 5 more years of studies proved these numbers to be consistant, Muskegon got out of the study and fluoridated their water too!

So now as a dentist I still see many children, adolescents and adults that have no cavities. I have never even heard of any patient having had dentures made as a teenager. It costs approximately 47 cents a year per person to fluoridate the water. The savings in money each year is in the billions. The savings in pain and suffering cannot be calculated. Fluoridation of the public water supply has been claimed to have been the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. As of 2004 about 400 million people worldwide received fluoridated water.

For those of you who may be interested, there is a monument in Grand Rapids commerating the introduction of fluoride in the water supply along the east side of the Grand River, just south of the Amway Hotel. It incorporates a drinking fountain!