A number of recent studies by dental groups and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention make the case that a rise in the consumption of bottled water by American children is a major factor in the simultaneous boost in tooth decay because the bottled water does not contain fluoride.
"You should brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, see the dentist twice a year for fluoride treatment and get fluoride in your drinking water," said Jonathan D. Shenkin, spokesman on pediatric dentistry for the American Dental Association. "If you're not getting it in your drinking water, that takes out a component of the effectiveness of that triad."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, too, warns that "bottled water may not have a sufficient amount of fluoride, which is important for preventing tooth decay and promoting oral health."
No question, many kids do drink bottled water. One recent study in the Archives of Pediatrics found that about 45 percent of parents give their kids only or primarily bottled water, while another in the journal Pediatric Dentistry found that nearly 70 percent of parents gave bottled water either alone or with tap water.
More than 65 percent of parents using bottled water did not know what levels of fluoride it contained, that study showed.
At the same time, tooth decay appears to affect a huge swath of the nation's young children. About 42 percent of children ages 2 to 11 in the U.S. had cavities in their baby teeth, according to a 2007 prevalence study, the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The issue is complicated for some parents who worry that fluoride may have negative health effects that outweigh its oral health benefits.
Image: Bottle of water, via Shutterstock.