Bottled water lags in fluoride

By SONJA LEWIS / Cox News Service

ATLANTA -- As more Americans are drinking from the bottle instead of the tap, dentists are sending patients home with prescriptions for fluoride.

Most bottled waters contain little or none of the fluoride that is standard in tap water and is considered essential for children's dental health. So dentists are urging patients to mix their bottled water use with tap water or to buy fluoridated bottled water. And dentists are prescribing more fluoride treatments, pills and drops.

"So often, our parents think they are doing the right thing by giving their children bottled water," said dentist Dr. Kaneta Lott of southwest Atlanta. "But we're seeing a lot of tooth decay in those same children."

Because widespread drinking of bottled water is a relatively new trend,there are few hard data on exactly how many children's teeth are being affected by it. But the problem is significant enough that the American Dental Association, at its recent annual session, called for labeling of fluoride concentrations on bottled water. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made a similar recommendation in 2001.

Atlanta mother Mary Moore figured that water equals healthy. After all, most Americans still don't drink the recommended amounts. And bottled water seemed healthier than water from the tap.

She cooked with it. She gave it to her toddler, Tiffany, in sippy cups. She used it almost exclusively.

Then her dentist told her to start buying bottled water with fluoride if she wanted to protect the developing teeth of her 3-year-old.

"Before she made me aware of it, I never really thought about fluoride at all," Moore said.

Fluoride helps harden teeth and prevent cavities in children. Only small amounts are required to protect teeth. If small children ingest too much fluoride, it causes fluorosis -- mottled discoloration and pitting of tooth enamel.

Beverage titan Coca-Cola said it has no immediate plans to add fluoride to its bottled water, Dasani, or to go along with labeling requests. But some water bottlers have begun responding to the concern. Dannon Fluoride to Go, marketed at children, hit store shelves in 2000, and you also can buy Crystal Springs With Fluoride.

Concerns about the fluoride gap have risen with the sales of bottled water, which have skyrocketed to $7 billion a year. By 2005, Americans will drink more bottled water than any other beverage except soft drinks, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp. Already, almost half of all Americans drink bottled water daily, according to the International Bottled Water Association, getting about one-third of their average 5.3 daily cups of water from bottled products.

But parents who've been keeping the refrigerator stocked with bottled water shouldn't necessarily worry that they're putting their children's teeth at risk.

"It's not that clear-cut," said Dr. Steve Adair, chairman of the Medical College of Georgia's Department of Pediatric Dentistry. "There could be fluoridated water at the school, at day care, at Grandma's house. Fluoride also occurs in some foods. If a child eats black-eyed peas canned in Florida in a community that has fluoridated water, he's probably getting some fluoride that way."

But families are urged to discuss their bottled water usage with their dentist. By questioning patients, dentists can determine whether a patient is getting enough fluoride.

REUSING BOTTLES? BE CAREFUL

Reusing commercial water bottles, while good for the environment, may be bad for your health.

A recent study reported in the Canadian Journal of Health found that the level of bacteria in children's reused water bottles would prompt health officials to issue boil-water advisories if the water had come from the tap. Researchers discovered contamination in about one-third of the samples collected from children's bottles at school.

The germs probably came from the children's hands and mouths as they reused the bottles without washing them or allowing them to dry, said Cathy Ryan, the University of Calgary professor who wrote the study.

Allowing bottles to dry completely after washing should solve any bacterial problems, she said. A U.S. study in 1999, however, found that thorough washing might make a bottle unsafe by accelerating the breakdown of the plastic and causing chemicals to leach into the water.Sonja Lewis writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.