Fluoride Revolution and Dental Caries: Evolution of Policies for Global Use

J Dent Res. 2019 Jul;98(8):837-846. doi: 10.1177/0022034519843495.


Epidemiological studies over 70 y ago provided the basis for the use of fluoride in caries prevention. They revealed the clear relation between water fluoride concentration, and therefore fluoride exposure, and prevalence and severity of dental fluorosis and dental caries. After successful trials, programs for water fluoridation were introduced, and industry developed effective fluoride-containing toothpastes and other fluoride vehicles. Reductions in caries experience were recorded in many countries, attributable to the widespread use of fluoride. This is a considerable success story; oral health for many was radically improved. While previously, water had been the only significant source of fluoride, now there are many, and this led to an increase in the occurrence of dental fluorosis. Risks identified for dental fluorosis were ingestion of fluoride-containing toothpaste, water fluoridation, fluoride tablets (which were sometimes ingested in areas with water fluoridation), and infant formula feeds. Policies were introduced to reduce excessive fluoride exposure during the period of tooth development, and these were successful in reducing dental fluorosis without compromising caries prevention. There is now a much better understanding of the public perception of dental fluorosis, with mild fluorosis being of no aesthetic concern. The advantages of water fluoridation are that it provides substantial lifelong caries prevention, is economic, and reduces health inequalities: it reaches a substantial number of people worldwide. Fluoride-containing toothpastes are by far the most important way of delivering the beneficial effect of fluoride worldwide. The preventive effects of conjoint exposure (e.g., use of fluoride toothpaste in a fluoridated area) are additive. The World Health Organization has informed member states of the benefits of the appropriate use of fluoride. Many countries have policies to maximize the benefits of fluoride, but many have yet to do so.

Keywords: dental public health; epidemiology; fluoride(s); health policy; prevention; remineralization.

MeSH terms

  • Dental Caries / prevention & control*
  • Fluoridation / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Fluorides
  • Fluorosis, Dental / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Toothpastes
  • World Health Organization


  • Toothpastes
  • Fluorides