18 American Dental Association Since that time, hundreds of studies have been done, including a number of systematic reviews which continue to show fluoride’s effectiveness in helping to prevent tooth decay. A systematic review is an analysis of studies that identifies and evaluates all of the evidence with which to answer a specific, narrowly focused question. It entails a systematic and unbiased review process that locates, assesses and combines high quality evidence from a collection of scientific studies to obtain a comprehensive, valid and reliable review on a specific topic. Systematic reviews provide the highest level of scientific evidence about a specific research question. Below is a discussion of major reviews of community water fluoridation, beginning with two systematic reviews published in 2017 and 2013, respectively, demonstrating that water fluoridation is effective in reducing tooth decay. On November 9, 2017, the Australian Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released the NHMRC Public Statement 2017 — Water Fluoridation and Human Health in Australia31 recommending community water fluoridation as a safe, effective and ethical way to help reduce tooth decay. Based on a comprehensive review of the evidence, published in 2016, and the translation of that evidence into the NHMRC Information Paper — Water Fluoridation: Dental and Other Human Health Outcomes,32 published in 2017, the Public Statement notes that the NHMRC found that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 26% to 44% in children and adolescents, and by 27% in adults. Additionally, it notes that recent Australian research found that access to fluoridated water from an early age is associated with less tooth decay in adults. The Statement notes that NHMRC supports Australian states and territories fluoridating their drinking water supplies within the range of 0.6 to 1.1 mg/L.31 Established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1996, the Community Preventive Services Task Force develops and disseminates guidance on which community-based health promotion and disease prevention intervention approaches work, and which do not work, based on available scientific evidence. The Task Force issues findings based on systematic reviews of effectiveness and economic evidence. The Guide to Community Preventive Services (“The Community Guide”) is a collection of evidence-based findings of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and is designed to assist decision makers in selecting interventions to improve health and prevent disease.33 The Community Guide reviews are designed to answer three questions: 1. What has worked for others and how well? 2. What might this intervention approach cost, and what am I likely to achieve through my investment? 3. What are the evidence gaps?33 In a 2013 update of the evidence, the Community Preventive Services Task Force continued to recommend community water fluoridation to reduce tooth decay, noting that cavities decreased when fluoridation was implemented and that cavities increased when fluoridation was stopped, as compared to communities that continued fluoridation.33 A summary of systematic reviews by the Oral Health Services Research Centre at the University Dental School in Cork, Ireland, published in 2009, reviewed results from three systematic reviews, all of which were published between 2000 and 2007. The summary of results concluded that the best available scientific evidence demonstrated that water fluoridation was an effective community-based method to prevent tooth decay, especially for the disadvantaged who bear the greatest burden of disease.35 A meta-analysis (a type of systematic review that seeks to determine a statistical estimate of an overall benefit based on the results of the collection of studies included in the review), which was published in 2007 in the Journal of Dental Research, demonstrated the effectiveness of water fluoridation for preventing tooth decay in adults. Twenty studies representing over 13,500 participants were included in the analysis. Of the 20 studies, nine examined the effectiveness of water fluoridation. The review of these studies found that fluoridation prevents approximately 27% of tooth decay in adults.36 Besides systematic reviews, significant additional studies conducted since the initiation of water fluoridation in 1945, also have demonstrated the effectiveness of water fluoridation in reducing the occurrence of tooth decay.
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