Access to Fluoridated Water and Adult Dental Caries: A Natural Experiment

J Dent Res. 2016 Jul;95(8):868-74. doi: 10.1177/0022034516643064. Epub 2016 Apr 6.


Systematic reviews have found no evidence to support a benefit of water fluoridation (WF) to prevent dental caries in adult populations. The aim of this natural experiment was to investigate whether lifetime access to fluoridated water is associated with dental caries experience among adults from Florianópolis, Brazil. The data originated from a population-based cohort study (EpiFloripa Adult) initiated in 2009 (n = 1,720) when participants were aged 20 to 59 years. The second wave was carried out in 2012 (n = 1,140) and included a dental examination and a face-to-face questionnaire. Participants residing at the same address since the age of 7 y or before were included in the primary analyses. Sensitivity analyses were also performed. WF was implemented in the city in 2 different periods of time: 1982 (60% of the population) and 1996. Dental caries was assessed by the decayed, missing, and filled teeth (DMFT) index. A combination of residential status, participant's age, and year of implementation of WF permitted the creation of participants' lifetime access to fluoridated water: >75%, 50% to 75%, and <50% of a participant's lifetime. Covariates included sex, age, socioeconomic mobility, educational attainment, income, pattern of dental attendance, and smoking. Participants who accessed fluoridate water <50% of their lifetime presented a higher mean rate ratio of DMFT (1.39; 95% CI, 1.05-1.84) compared with those living >75% of their lifetime with residential access to fluoridated water. Participants living between 50% and 75% and <50% of their lives in fluoridated areas presented a decayed and filled teeth mean ratio of 1.34 (95% CI, 1.02-1.75) and 1.47 (95% CI, 1.05-2.04) higher than those with residential access to fluoridated water >75% of their lifetime, respectively. Longer residential lifetime access to fluoridated water was associated with less dental caries even in a context of multiple exposures to fluoride.

Keywords: DMFT; adults; oral health surveys; public health; tooth decay; water fluoridation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brazil / epidemiology
  • DMF Index
  • Dental Caries / epidemiology*
  • Dental Caries / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Fluoridation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult