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Chapel Hill, N.C.—Fluoridated drinking water provides caries protection for adults, even if they didn’t consume fluoridated water as children, say U.S. and Australian researchers.

A study published online in the Journal of Dental Research showed that adults who spent more than 75 percent of their lifetime living in fluoridated communities had 30 percent less tooth decay compared to adults who had lived less than 25 percent of their lifetime in fluoridated communities.

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Adelaide, Australia, shows strong evidence that fluoridated water provides dental health benefits to adults, even if they didn’t have access to it as children.

“It was once thought that fluoridated drinking water only benefited children who consumed it from birth,” explained Dr. Gary Slade, the John W. Stamm Distinguished Professor and director of the oral epidemiology Ph.D. program at UNC. “Now we show that fluoridated water reduces tooth decay in adults, even if they start drinking it after childhood. In public health terms, it means that more people benefit from water fluoridation than previously thought.”

Researchers analyzed national survey data from 3,779 adults aged 15 and older selected at random from the Australian population between 2004 and 2006. Survey examiners measured levels of decay and study participants reported where they lived since 1964. The residential histories of study participants were matched to information about fluoride levels in community water supplies.  The researchers then determined the percentage of each participant’s lifetime in which the public water supply was fluoridated.

“At this time, when several Australian cities are considering fluoridation, we should point out that the evidence is stacked in favor of long-term exposure to fluoride in drinking water,” said Kaye Roberts-Thomson, a co-author of the study. “It really does have a significant dental health benefit.”