The U.S.’s Heightened Interest in Water Safety: How Does it Affect Oral Health?
It’s no wonder that Americans have been highly concerned about water safety for the past few years. After the debacle in Flint, Michigan, people are understandably fearful about what goes into their water. Because the city of Flint didn’t take care, many residents were exposed to serious issues because of lead poisoning, such as mental impairments.
Besides lead poisoning, there are many other problems that people should be aware of, such as
- Sanitary sewer overflows: This happens when sewage leaks out of the system before getting to a treatment center
- Contaminated groundwater from the agricultural sector (e.g. pesticides)
Researchers are still uncertain of all the ramifications of farming contaminants. In fact, Medline Plus shared an article recently about how the pesticides used in farming were actually altering oral bacteria:
Pesticide exposure may change the makeup of bacteria in the mouths of farm workers, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Washington analyzed swabs taken from the mouths of 65 adult farm workers and 52 adults who didn’t work on farms. All lived in Washington’s Yakima Valley.
The farm workers had higher blood levels of pesticides, and greater changes in their mouth bacteria than non-farm workers, the study found.
The most significant finding was in farm workers who had the organophosphate pesticide Azinphos-methyl in their blood.
In this group, researchers found significantly reduced quantities of seven common groups of oral bacteria. Among those was Streptococcus, which first author Ian Stanaway called “one of the most common normal microbiota in the mouth.” He’s a doctoral candidate in environmental toxicology.
Stanaway noted that previous studies have found that “changes in species and strains of Streptococcus have been associated with changes in oral health.”
The changes noted in this new study persisted into the winter, long after the growing season when pesticide use is highest, the researchers said.
The study doesn’t establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship, however.
The results were published recently in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
With this discovery, “the challenge becomes, what does this mean? We don’t know,” principal investigator Elaine Faustman said in a journal news release. Faustman is a professor in the university’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences.
“We depend on the microbiome for many metabolic processes,” she said . . .
Now you are probably thinking, wait, Streptococcus is associated with illness, right? So shouldn’t reduced strains be a good thing? It’s true that streptococcal pharyngitis–commonly known as strep throat–and other strains are responsible for infections, but there are streptococcal species that aren’t harmful and are actually a normal part of the oral cavity. These are a part of the microbiota, or the microorganisms that share body space according to biologist Joshua Lederberg.
So if chemicals in the water can cause changes in the oral cavity, what else are people worried about? Believe it or not, the answer is fluoride! This is surprising since water fluoridation has been given the okay by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization, the American Dental Association (ADA), and the like.
In fact, some people are so worried that Drbiscupidcom. says a Fluoridation Society has cropped up to combat fears:
Johnny Johnson Jr., DMD, president of the newly formed American Fluoridation Society (AFS) got into the fluoridation fight when local officials in his community of Pinellas County, FL, voted in 2011 to discontinue water fluoridation, citing concern that residents might be ingesting too much fluoride . . .
“I thought she was kidding, but she was serious,” he recounted. “I explained there’s been no literature that found any connection whatsoever between water fluoridation and cancer, and I sent her information. She was blown away by the research and said she had definitely been misled.”
In another incident, a public health student told him there was “lots of debate about toxins and arsenic in fluoride.” Dr. Johnson replied: “There’s no debate; the science is crystal clear.”
. . . The main thing that healthcare professionals can do is be aware of what’s going on in their communities regarding water fluoridation, Dr. Johnson advised. Letters to newspapers and noticing what people are saying about the issue are tip-off’s about efforts against community water fluoridation.
According to the CDC, the only issue that excess fluoride has caused over the years is fluorosis, or cosmetic issue where teeth become discolored. And if you look at different clinical studies, communities that add fluoride often see less cavities in their residents.
If you are worried about fluoride, you can talk to your dentist about the issue. Some people actually opt out of fluoridated water, but still glean the benefits of topical fluoride since it isn’t ingested.