Officials Say Kids Getting Too Much Fluoride
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
But first, NPR's Richard Harris tells us about new government proposals to change the standard for fluoride.
RICHARD HARRIS: Fluoride helps prevent cavities throughout a person's lifetime. But you can have too much of a good thing. In children, too much fluoride can create a condition called fluorosis. Dental professor Howard Pollick at U.C. San Francisco says it's usually very subtle.
HOWARD POLLICK: We see a little white streaking, perhaps, when we dry the teeth and look closely with a good light.
HARRIS: And fluorosis is on the rise. A recent federal study found that 40 percent of adolescents have subtle signs of it. Occasionally, it's worse. But Pollick says those serious cases are not on account of fluoride deliberately added to the water to make teeth stronger.
POLLICK: We only see those where there is a natural level of fluoride that's very high in the water. This is well beyond the areas of water fluoridation.
HARRIS: But another part of the federal bureaucracy is planning to move faster. Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it's proposing to lower its recommendation for how much fluoride utilities should deliberately add to the water to prevent cavities. Dr. Howard Koh is the Assistant Secretary for Health.
HOWARD KOH: In the past, people received almost all their fluoride from drinking water only, but currently it's now been recognized that people receive fluoride from at least several other sources, from toothpaste and mouth rinses, for example.
HARRIS: The old standard was also a sliding scale. It recommended less fluoride in hot climates, figuring that kids from the South who were playing outside would drink a lot more water than kids in cool climates, so they would need less in any given gulp to protect against cavities.
KOH: But with the advent of air-conditioning and other advances, it was found in a study published only a year ago, actually, that people drink about the same amount of water regardless of where they live around the country. So that's where the science showed us that a range is no longer needed. And instead, a single target was a better public health recommendation.
HARRIS: And after all, the federal government doesn't require that fluoride be added to drinking water.
KOH: We are putting up these proposed recommendations on the federal register for public notice over the next 30 days. And then, ultimately, these are decisions that are made at the local level.
HARRIS: And at home, parents can make sure their kids swallow less fluoridated toothpaste. Richard Harris, NPR News, Washington.
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