News + Issues

Has the Flint, Michigan, water crisis hit a nerve in the fluoride debate?

flint water crisis

Correction: a previous version of this post misrepresented the levels of lead in Flint as 104,000 ppb. The levels found, according to NPR, were actually 104 ppb. The EPA’s limit for drinking water is 15 ppb. Cases like this show just how important it is to have water filters fitted in your home, visit to see the options you have.

When the water source of a small community in Michigan was switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River due to financial issues, the devastating long-term effects of this decision took the nation by storm. During the nearly two years that the city of Flint was using the toxic water source, its citizens cried out for help. But by the time the city reacted, the damage was irreversible in many ways. According to an article from NPR on April 20, 2016, a resident of Flint had her water tested for lead at 104 parts per billion (ppb) in 2015. The Environmental Protection Agency’s limit for drinking water is 15 ppb.

Much of the nation was enraged at the crisis in Flint, Michigan. After seeing the devastating effects of lead poisoning appear in countless news articles, headlines and social media posts, the nation became rightfully afraid of this happening to their own communities and loved ones. According to Lead Action News, there are 63 unique listed health effects and symptoms from lead poisoning in children and perinatal development and 76 in adults, including cognitive function deficits, miscarriages, sterility and mental health issues. Lead poisoning also affects dentition and oral health. Lead Action News states that exposure to lead can cause “teeth with blue-black lines near the gum base,” which oral health providers can relate to gum recession and possible periodontal disease.

Historically, the dental community has tried to combat oral health diseases not only by educating the public on key issues, but by adding fluoride into drinking water. Fluoride acts by slowing the breakdown of enamel and helping assist in the remineralization process of our dentition. According to the CDC in 2014, roughly 74 percent of the U.S. population served by the community water system received fluoridated water. Some states, however, like Hawaii and Idaho, drop well below this line at 12 and 31 percent respectively. The necessity of fluoride in water is not a recent debate, but the Flint, Michigan, water crisis seemed to elevate it to a new high.

There are many groups that disagree with the addition of fluoride to water. Fluoride Action Network, a group against the fluoridation of community water sources, has claimed that the mineral actually leaches lead from pipes and uses the crisis in Flint as a warning, calling it the “tip of the iceberg.” However, an article from the CDC website in 2013 mutes this point by stating that the fluoride we use in drinking water has a low water solubility, and is added to corrosion inhibitors, increasing the safety of fluoridated water. Although the Flint water crisis sparked questions from the American public regarding the safety of fluoride in water, the ADA still stands firm in the fact that more than 70 years of scientific research has demonstrated a 25 percent decrease in decay of dentition for children and adults while using fluoridated water. Fluoridated water is, according to the CDC, one of the 10 greatest health advancements in the 20th Century, and will continue to have the support of the oral health community nationwide.

~ Jessica Anderson, Georgia ’20

Jessica Anderson

Jessica, an Arkansas native, is a first-year student at the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University. She graduated from Arkansas Tech University with a B.S. in Biology in December of 2015. She currently serves as her class ASDA Representative and is keeping busy learning the dental school lifestyle and getting to know the state of Georgia, as well as her Class of 2020 family.

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  1. “According to an article from NPR on April 20, 2016, a resident of Flint had her water tested for lead at 104,000 parts per billion in 2015. The Environmental Protection Agency’s limit for drinking water is 15,000 parts per billion.” It’s actually 104 ppb and 15 ppb. Where did the extra zeros come from?

    “an article from the CDC website in 2013 mutes this point by stating that the fluoride we use in drinking water has a low water solubility” Sorry, that just isn’t true. The fluoridation chemicals which are used are hexafluorosilicic acid (H2SiF6), sodium fluorosilicate (Na2SiF6), and sodium fluoride (NaF). Hexafluorosilicic acid (which is the most commonly used) and sodium fluoride definitely do not have low water solubility. Sodium fluorosilicate is less soluble, but can still dissociate enough to give a free fluoride ion concentration orders of magnitude higher than that used for artificial water fluoridation. From the CDC website: “The water fluoridation additives that are used to increase the fluoride content of water are carefully chosen for their favorable solubility in water.” By “favorable solubility in water” what they mean is the opposite of what Jessica Anderson thinks it means. They think water solubility is a good thing because it’s required for effectiveness.

    1. Hi Dan,

      Thank you for reading Mouthing Off. We appreciate you pointing out the fact error on the ppb figures in Flint. We’ve updated the post and run a correction.

      ASDA supports community water fluoridation. Our policy, as well as background on our stance can be found here:

      We encourage healthy discussion on Mouthing Off and welcome varying opinions. I’d just remind you to keep our commenting policy in mind when you post ( We will remove comments that are disrespectful, inappropriate or offensive.

      Kim Kelly, senior manager, publications

    2. Jessica Anderson says:

      Mr. Germouse,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to read my article. I sincerely apologize for the error in lead reporting numbers, and appreciate you pointing that out so that we could resolve the oversight. As a dental student, I am learning more and more every day about the importance of fluoridated water, and I continue to stand behind the ADA and the dental community in promoting the addition of fluoride to tap water.

      Thank you again for your time and your responses,

      -Jessica Anderson, Georgia ’20-

  2. I have asked many forced-fluoridation fanatics to tell me how much accumulated fluoride in the body they think is safe. So far not a single one of them has been able to answer the question.

    It is unlikely to just be a coincidence that the US, Australia, and Ireland, which have had high rates of forced-fluoridation for decades, also have high rates of joint problems, and poor health outcomes in general.

  3. There is no credible evidence that taking fluoridated water has ever prevented a single dental cavity. The forced-fluoridation fanatics often try to claim that the low rates of dental caries in western European countries which do not have artificially fluoridated public water supplies are due to naturally occurring fluoride in water, or some other kind of artificial fluoridation such as salt fluoridation. They are lying. They also rely on studies which do not measure individual fluoride exposure, are not randomised, are not blinded, do not properly account for confounding factors, are highly prone to systematic error, and are typically funded by corporations such as Colgate-Palmolive.

  4. Abby Halpern says:

    Thank for your comments. As chair of ASDA’s Council on Advocacy, I appreciate the need to debate important issues affecting our communities. As Kim expressed, ASDA supports community water fluoridation. Dentistry is an evidence based profession. The overwhelming evidence suggests that fluoridation of community water supplies is the single most effective public health measure to prevent dental decay. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has cited many studies that prove the safety and benefits of fluoride. Due to the evidence, as Jessica mentioned, the CDC named community water fluoridation one of the top 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. The CDC describes the many benefits of community water fluoridation, including that such measures prevent caries and thus have been shown to “save money for families and for the US health care system.” More information can be found here:

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