Fluoride in drinking water

Behind the news

11 April 2014

This TGA behind-the-news article was published on 11 April 2014. Behind-the-news articles are published in response to issues that are of interest to the community at a point in time, for example, subjects that have been in the media.

Fluoride is the collective term for compounds containing the element fluorine. Fluoride occurs naturally in the soil and dissolves into groundwater in some parts of the world, including in some areas in Australia. As early as 1912, it was observed that areas with naturally occurring fluoride in drinking water, including Queensland, had better dental health than areas where there was no fluoride in the drinking water.

This link was confirmed in the 1940s and it is now known that fluoride in drinking water plays a role in both preventing and repairing dental caries by remineralising enamel.

In the 1950s, because of the demonstrated public health benefits of naturally occurring fluoride in drinking water, water authorities in Australia and other parts of the world began adjusting the levels of fluoride.

Regulated by the states and territories

In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommended the fluoridation of drinking water supplies in a 2007 statement that concluded 'fluoridation of drinking water remains the most effective and socially equitable means of achieving community-wide exposure to the caries prevention effects of fluoride'.

The NHMRC has established a Fluoride Reference Group to, in particular, 'guide the evaluation of the evidence on the health effects of water fluoridation, focusing on studies published since 2006'. Details on the reference group can be found on the NHMRC website.

Water fluoridation is regulated by the states and territories.

Fluoridated drinking water is not therapeutic goods within the definition of that term in the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989. The Therapeutic Goods Administration thus has no role in regulating fluoridated drinking water.

For more information about fluoridation of drinking water in your area, contact your state or territory health department.