Bottled, Filtered or Tap Water?

by | Jul 22, 2011 | Dental Health


Hey everyone!

We’re a population on the go. We hit the door with our car keys and water bottle in one hand and our BlackBerry or iPhone in the other. Wheels, water and Wi-Fi access – the American way of life.

As a healthcare provider, I can’t help but filter everything – even this common scenario – through the lens of health and wellbeing. Getting in the car? Buckle up! Going to use your phone? Use a hands-free headset, so your phone is kept at an optimal distance from your head. Both hands should be on the wheel, and never – EVER – text while driving.  As for the bottle wedged in your car’s cup holder? Well, I have a few things to say about that.

If your bottle is full of water, that’s a step in the right direction. Sugar-laden beverages do your teeth and waistline no favors. Whether you are sipping herb-infused designer water or a 20-ounce bottle of Dasani, the nutrition is the same. They’ll both wet your whistle without adding calories. Bottled water will, however, shrink your wallet!

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that community-sourced water costs less than a penny a gallon. Bottled water runs about $3.80 per gallon, according to consumer watchdog Environmental Working Group, and adds about 2 million tons of plastic to our landfills annually. Even worse, some bottled waters may expose us to trace amounts of pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, ammonia, nitrates, caffeine, arsenic and radioactive isotopes, according to a study by the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory.

While bottled water is portable and some is perfectly clean, it may be shortchanging your teeth if it’s your primary source of fluid, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Sure it keeps your mouth moist – which is great for gums and teeth – but those who drink primarily bottled water may be missing out on the proven dental protection supplied by optimally fluoridated municipal water.

Water from underground sources, mountain reservoirs, wells and springs can have varying amounts of natural fluoride, but it’s often filtered before processing. If the bottled water comes from a municipal water source (and much does), it may have been heavily filtered to remove odor and the taste of chlorine. The fluoride gets flushed too.

People with home filtration systems may inadvertently remove fluoride from their main water source as well, negating this compound’s ability to inhibit the formation of cavities. Water treatment systems are installed under the sinks in many new homes or exist as built-in components in refrigerators. Many people opt for pitcher-filter setups.

There is no significant research regarding the use of these filtration systems and their impact on dental caries. Manufacturers report that regular carbon and charcoal-based filters do not typically remove fluoride from the water, but the ADA reports that activated charcoal filters with alumina can remove up to 80 percent of fluoride in treated water. Reverse osmosis filtration removes the majority of water fluoridation, while steam distillation systems remove 100 percent of fluoride, says the ADA.

Basically, consumers don’t know what they are getting when they twist the lids off their water bottles or stick a glass under the filter tap – unless they’ve done some painstaking research. That’s why the ADA would like to see more consumer-friendly information available regarding home filtration systems and fluoride levels. The ADA also supports labels on water bottles, detailing fluoride concentration and other components, as well as bottlers’ phone numbers and addresses so consumers and their dentists can make informed decisions about fluoride treatment.

Adding fluoride to public water sources became a health policy in the 1940s. Since then, fluoride has been included in toothpaste, mouth rinses, prescribed supplements and dental office treatment protocol to minimize dental decay.  The record speaks for itself.  Dental decay is nothing like the scourge it was when I first started practicing in the mid-1970s.

Tap water is highly regulated for safety by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and has been since the 1977 Clean Water Act. Anyone can obtain water profile reports from local water providers or through the state health department. Bottled water falls under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) jurisdiction. Currently, the FDA does not require bottlers to post water source, treatment method or purity.

People love the convenience of bottled water. I get that! But, between the high cost, the loss of fluoride protection, and the undeniable impact that plastic bottles have on the environment, a reusable stainless steel thermos or Nalgene bottle and some clean cold tap water are sounding better and better!

Questions about fluoride treatment? Please call my Southfield dentist office at (248) 356-8790.

Until next time,

Mark W. Langberg, DDS, MAGD