Fluoride in drinking water — credited with dramatically cutting cavities and tooth decay — may now be too much of a good thing.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is proposing changing the recommended fluoride level to 0.7 milligrams per liter of water. And the Environmental Protection Agency will review whether the maximum cutoff of 4 milligrams per liter is too high.
The standard since 1962 has been a range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter.
A reported increase in spots on kids' teeth is one reason the federal government said Friday it plans to lower the recommended levels for fluoride in water supplies, the first such change in nearly 50 years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the splotchy tooth condition, fluorosis, has been showing up in more kids ages 12 through 15 since the 1980s.
The American Dental Association released a statement Friday applauding the government announcement to change fluoride guidance.
Two St. Petersburg dentists contacted Friday afternoon after the release of the report said they have not noticed any spotting on the teeth of their patients.
Pediatric dentist Myles H. Levitt, who has been in practice 36 years, said he hasn't seen any increase in kids with streaks or spots on their teeth. Such discolorations, he noted, can also be due to factors like fevers or trauma. As for the notion that people who use topical fluoride don't need it in their water, he said there's a big difference between fluoride you ingest, which helps build strong bones and teeth, and topical products.
Dr. Mary Ann Pittman, a family dentist, was president of the Pinellas County Dental Association in 2003 when the county started adding fluoride to the water, which she had campaigned for since 1990.
Like Levitt, she hasn't seen an increase of tooth spotting or streaking. Fluorosis, as the condition is called, actually means stronger teeth, and can be so subtle it is hardly noticeable.
And if kids are getting too much fluoride, water may not be the culprit, she said. "I would say (to parents) there's no cause for concern about fluoride in tap water, but I would be cautious about the ingestion of fluoride in toothpastes and mouth rinses.''
About 70 percent of Floridians get optimally fluoridated water, according to the state Department of Health. Pinellas County is among those that keeps levels on the low end of the CDC recommendations, about 0.7 to 0.8 milligrams per liter, because people in hot climates tend to drink more water, said Bob Powell, operations and lab director for Pinellas County Utilities.
Powell noted that groundwater has naturally occurring fluoride, as much as 0.6 milligrams per liter, so even people with well water may get almost optimal levels.