Water fluoridation is one of the most effective public health programs of the past century. However, efforts to extend water fluoridation into currently non-fluoridated areas are often thwarted. Despite considerable evidence regarding the effectiveness of water fluoridation at an individual level, published national community-based studies are rare. This study compared children's decay experience and prevalence between areas with and without water fluoridation in Australia.
Oral health data were obtained from clinical examinations of 128,990 5- to 15-year-old children attending for a regular visit with their respective Australian state or territory School Dental Service in 2002. Water fluoridation status, residence remoteness, and socioeconomic status (SES) were obtained for each child's recorded residential postcode area.
Children from every age group had greater caries prevalence and more caries experience in areas with negligible fluoride concentrations in the water (<0.3 parts per million [ppm]) than in optimally fluoridated areas (≥0.7 ppm). Controlling for child age, residential location, and SES, deciduous and permanent caries experience was 28.7% and 31.6% higher, respectively, in low-fluoride areas compared with optimally fluoridated areas. The odds ratios for higher caries prevalence in areas with negligible fluoride compared with optimal fluoride were 1.34 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.29, 1.39) and 1.24 (95% CI 1.21, 1.28) in the deciduous and permanent dentitions, respectively.
This study demonstrates the continued community effectiveness of water fluoridation and provides support for the extension of this important oral health intervention to populations currently without access to fluoridated water.