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Water Water Everywhere…and Not a Drop to Drink

That’s how 1/3 of Americans feel about tap water. They prefer bottled for a variety of reasons, and many claim they can even taste the difference. Truth is, bottled water is considered less safe than tap and in repeated taste tests, we fail to discern the difference.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (of the EPA) is more stringent about bacterial counts in tap water than is the FDA, which oversees bottled.   There are other threats too. Bottled water is all over the grid on acidity. Some of the most popular brands are chemicalized to a pH of 3. To buffer the acid attack, we leach calcium from our enamel (resulting in erosion) and our bones (resulting in osteoporosis and kidney stones). Plus, the plastic itself is sometimes unstable, leaching hazardous chemicals into the water we drink.

And then there’s the waste! We heap about 4 billion plastic water bottles a year into the US waste stream, costing about $70 mil in clean up and landfill. Considering the recycling rate is only 27%, let’s not forget about the impact on our environment, with the 1,000 years it takes to degrade a single bottle!

If you or your patients feel a need for purified water, think about installing a home filtration system. It sure beats the price of bottled water, which costs you up to $45 a gallon.

But what about Fluoride?  75% of US tap water contains fluoride which truly helps protect teeth from the acid attack of our culture.  Consider that we have:

  • acid going down (most of the commercial food and all the commercial drinks)
  • acid coming up (60% of us suffer from acid reflux), and
  • acid being produced like crazy, as certain mouth bacteria (especially Streptoccus mutans) spit out acid whenever we eat sugar—a sky-high staple in the western diet.

Systemic fluoride helps protect teeth from acid erosion and tooth decay. While teeth are developing (under the age of 12), swallowing tiny amounts of fluoride allows the fluoride molecule it to permanently weave its way into the structure of developing teeth. Whatever you do, don’t let your young patients miss that window of opportunity.

Topically, the fluoride molecule clogs the opening of the enamel tubules, helping prevent the uptake of acid into the enamel tubules. Compared to the old-school gels or rinses, fluroide varnish is easier to apply, longer acting and fast drying, which allows deeper enamel protection and less systemic exposure from ingestion. Fluroide varnish application has become a very important part of the infant oral health as well. It helps that varnish is slightly more effective on unpolished teeth. The biofilm acts as a bit of a scaffold to increase uptake.

Many of our patients are worried about fluoride exposure, especially systemic fluoride, so how do well quell the nay-sayers? While I wish it wasn’t necessary to add anything to water, I remind everyone to recognize the serious nature of caries disease (cause of decay) today—it’s the #1 disease amongst children, the #1 reason for hospitalization and it claims 51 million school hours a year. Furthermore, despite more than 3,200 published studies on fluoridation, the CDC reports that “panels of experts from different health and scientific fields have provided strong evidence that water fluoridation is safe and effective.”

So the next time you pull out your wallet to buy bottled water, think again. You’ve already paid for your tap water through your taxes, you're paying again in the store, and we are all paying the price in our overloaded landfill, pretending we don’t have a global warming issue. Grab a glass and meet me at the tap.  Cheers!