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Health Watch: How Bottled Water Affects Your Teeth

Bottled water may be convenient, but it probably isn’t the best choice for your teeth.

Millions of Americans are embracing a healthy lifestyle and turning to bottled water as part of their diet. Bottled water is often marketed as being better for you, but it may be doing your teeth a disservice. Your bottled water could be missing some elements that promote oral health.

For over 60 years, the United States has been involved in a public health program called community water fluoridation. Many communities throughout the nation added fluoride to their water supply, and the result was a significant decrease in childhood cavities. In fact, community water fluoridation is the single most effective public health measure for tooth decay prevention to date.

The Water Works

Fluoride battles dental cavities by strengthening tooth enamel and remineralizing teeth damaged by acid. Unfortunately, the majority of bottled waters contain little or no fluoride. In fact, fluoride may even be removed from water during the filtration process. Bottling companies and home filtration systems use reverse osmosis or distillation units to remove sediments and impurities from the water. Reverse osmosis is a water purification system that filters out minerals and some chemicals, while distillation uses heat to literally steam water away from impurities. The steam is then cooled and turned back into water.

What's gaining steam in the water industry is the sale of bottled water -- and you'll need to drink plenty of it in order for your teeth to benefit. According to the American Dental Association, fluoridated water should contain 0.7-1.2 milligrams per liter of fluoride for effective cavity protection. While fluoride intake varies according to weight, the ADA states that ingesting 4 mg of fluoride per day is adequate for the average 160 pound person. Since most bottled waters contain less than 0.3 mg per liter of fluoride, you'll need to stock up to get the amount of fluoride recommended by the ADA!

Rules of the Pool

Since there are no studies completed to prove whether bottled waters contribute to dental cavities, it may be too early to tell how drinking bottled water affects your teeth. But as more people are turning to bottled water for health reasons, the government is stepping in to make sure you're getting the information you need -- bottled water is now regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Although fluoride is not required for bottled water, bottling companies must list the fluoride content if it was added during processing. You should be aware that they do not need to reveal their product's fluoride content if they did not supply it themselves.

How can you tell if your brand of bottled water has fluoride? If it's not on the label, you can contact the company and ask them how much fluoride their water contains. If you have a home filtration system, refer to the manual or contact the manufacturer to determine the amount of fluoride filtered out of your local water supply, which is often monitored by your water authority or public health department. Multiplying fluoride content by the number of liters of water you drink will also help you estimate how much fluoride you're consuming on a daily basis.

Sink or Swim

If you're deviating from your fluoridated community water supply, you may need to improvise to get your daily fluoride content. Discuss your water sources and intake, along with the appropriate level of fluoride you and your family should be getting, with your dentist. If you just can't go back to the tap, your dentist may recommend a fluoride toothpaste or prescribe fluoride drops to help meet your needs. Your dentist can even determine whether your child is ingesting too much fluoride, and will provide protective measures to help prevent fluorosis.

The next time you buy a bottle of water or use a filtration system, think about your teeth, too. Fluoride helps prevent cavities, and since dental health is linked to overall health, you'll want to take the right steps to keep your mouth in great shape. Talk to your dentist about the benefits of fluoride, and include dental care in your plans for a healthy lifestyle. After all, you've worked hard for that body -- why not have a great set of teeth to go with it?

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