Healthy living

Fluoridated drinking water

What is fluoride and what is fluoridation?

Fluoride is a mineral that is found naturally in all water sources, including fresh water and sea water. It is also found naturally in a wide range of food items including tea, fish and rice and is a normal part of the diet.

When present in drinking water at the optimum level, or used in dental treatments, fluoride can promote dental health by helping to prevent tooth damage and decay.

Water fluoridation is simply the process of adding fluoride to the water supply to an optimum level that allows everyone to enjoy its beneficial effects.

What are the benefits of drinking fluoridated water?

Fluoride at the optimum level helps protect teeth against decay in people of all ages, from very young children to the elderly, by helping to strengthen teeth and repair damage caused by early decay.

Fluoridated drinking water particularly benefits children and those on a lower income, as it is delivered directly into the home at no incremental cost.

It contributes to a suite of oral health initiatives that include healthy diet, good oral hygiene, appropriate use of fluoridated toothpaste and regular dental check-ups.

Are there any adverse health effects from drinking fluoridated drinking water?

No. Sound evidence and research, as well as more than 60 years of experience around the world, including over 40 years in Western Australia, has clearly shown that the optimum amount of fluoride in drinking water simply poses no risk to health.

Are there guidelines for fluoride levels in drinking water supplies?

Yes. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australia’s peak public health policy organisation, specifies a maximum level of 1.5 milligrams per litre for fluoride in drinking water. (One milligram per litre is equivalent to one part per million.)

The World Health Organization also sets a maximum guideline value of 1.5 milligrams per litre for fluoride in drinking water.

This guideline value has been set to protect children from the risk of dental fluorosis from higher levels of fluoride. Fluoride added to drinking water for the protection of teeth is always kept well below this level.

See the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (external site) for further information.

What does the National Health and Medical Research Council recommend?

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) continues to support Australian states and territories fluoridating their water supplies within the range of 0.6 to 1.1 milligrams per litre, given fluoride’s role in reducing tooth decay.

Current NHMRC advice strongly recommends community fluoridation as a safe, effective and ethical way to help reduce tooth decay. This advice reflects a thorough search and analysis of over 20 years of research, and consultation with the Australian public.

NHMRC found that fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 26 to 44 per cent in children and teenagers and by 27 per cent in adults.

NHMRC found no reliable evidence that community water fluoridation at current Australian levels causes health problems.

Detailed information on water fluoridation is also available on the NHMRC website (external site), including:

Is bottled water fluoridated?

In most cases, the answer is No, although some bottled water products contain naturally occurring fluoride from the source.

Australian food regulations do permit the voluntary addition of fluoride to bottled water, so long as the total amount of fluoride is within the range 0.6 – 1 milligrams per litre.

Any bottled water with added fluoride that is sold in Australia must be clearly labelled with a typical analysis and words stating that the product contains added fluoride.

This labelling allows consumers to make informed decisions about their drinking water.

What advice is provided for pregnant or breast feeding mothers, or for making infant formula?

NHMRC recommends exclusive breast feeding until around 6 months of age. However, this is not always possible and, for infants who are not breastfed or who are partially breastfed, NHMRC recommends that infant formula be used as an alternative until 12 months of age. Infant formula sold in Australia is safe for consumption by infants when prepared in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions on the label and reconstituted using fluoridated tap water.

It is safe for pregnant and breast feeding mothers to drink water fluoridated at Australian levels. The level of fluoride in breast milk remains steady when a nursing mother drinks fluoridated water.

Can I remove fluoride from my drinking water?

The optimum fluoride level in public drinking water supplies, which is less than 1 milligram per litre, is a safe and effective way of helping to protect teeth against dental decay, and it is not necessary or desirable to remove the fluoride.

Nevertheless, distillers and filtering systems containing ion exchange resins, activated aluminium or reverse-osmosis membranes have been shown to be effective and will remove most of the fluoride from water. These filters, however, are quite sophisticated and expensive to purchase, install and operate.

More information about removing fluoride from water can be obtained from a professional water treatment company.

More information

For more detailed information about fluoride and fluoridation, please visit the Department of Health Western Australia website (external site) to view a list of published reviews and journal articles, or visit the 'Related sites' listed at the end of this page.

Remember

  • Community water fluoridation is an important, cost-effective public health measure which plays a critical role in reducing dental decay and improving oral health.
  • The benefits and safety of fluoridation of public drinking water supplies is supported by overwhelming scientific evidence.
  • Water fluoridation is widely practised throughout Australia, and is supported by an extensive range of major public health organisations in Australia and worldwide.
  • The fluoride levels in drinking water supplies in Western Australia are maintained at safe and effective levels and are regularly monitored.

Contact

Water Unit
Environmental Health Directorate
Department of Health
PO Box 8172
PERTH BUSINESS CENTRE WA 6849

Telephone: 9388 4999
Email: ehinfo@health.wa.gov.au


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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