In 1901 a dentist named Frederick S. McKay noticed that many of his patients had brown, mottled teeth that were resistant to decay. He collected water samples from towns where brown, mottled teeth were prevalent, and he found concentrations of fluoride as high as 12 parts per million in the water supply. Chemists then did studies and determined that it was the fluoride in the water that caused the brown teeth. But it wasn’t until 1938 that researchers confirmed McKay’s conclusion that drinking water containing fluoride resulted in a reduction of tooth decay.
In 1941 the New York Times reported that children who drank water with 1 part per million of fluoride had 1/2 to 1/3 less tooth decay than children drinking non-fluoridated water. In 1944 New York State conducted a study in which they fluoridated the Newburgh water and compared the lower decay rate to the decay rate in Kingston which did not have fluoridated water. In the early 1950’s the U.S. Department of Health officially recommended fluoridation, and many of the nation’s water supplies were then fluoridated. But fluoridation was controversial in New York City and didn’t begin in the City until 1965.
Today more than 60 percent of Americans use fluoridated water. However Suffolk County water is not fluoridated. The Suffolk County Water Authority website states: “We do not add fluoride or vitamins to the water we deliver to you. Our water delivery system has over 500 wells and over 5,000 miles of water mains (pipes) located throughout Suffolk County. Most of our system is interconnected so that your water can come from multiple wells. This makes it impossible to provide fluoride at consistent levels, and too much fluoride can be harmful.”