The introduction of water fluoridation has been described as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century for its role in helping prevent dental decay (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1999).
Ninety per cent of Victorians now receive the benefits of drinking water that is optimally fluoridated.
In August 2017, the communities of Cobram, Strathmerton and Yarroweyah received fluoridated drinking water for the first time.
Ten per cent of Victorians, however, do not have access to water fluoridation, with almost all of these from rural and regional areas of the state.
Benefits for oral health
This difference between access to fluoridated and non-fluoridated drinking water leads to differences in oral health outcomes.
This is especially so for young children in non-fluoridated communities, who experience higher rates of hospital admission for the treatment of dental decay.
In 2017–18, the standardised admission rate per 1,000 children aged 0 to 9 years in rural areas (which includes children from both fluoridated and non-fluoridated communities) was higher than that for children in metropolitan fluoridated communities, as shown in the following Figure 2 below.
Notably, the gap in admission rates has reduced as more rural areas have had access to fluoridated water.
Figure 2: Standardised hospital admission rate trend for treatment of dental decay in Victorian children 0–9 years of age in rural and metropolitan communities and for Victoria
Source: Victorian Health Information Surveillance System (VHISS)
Dental conditions are the highest cause of all potentially preventable hospitalisations for Victorians under 10 years of age, and the third highest for all Victorians (Department of Health and Human Services 2019).
The predominant cause of these potentially preventable dental hospitalisations in children is dental decay.
The benefits of water fluoridation can be seen in Figure 2, where the extension of water fluoridation to a number of rural and regional communities in 2006–09 led to a steady decline in the number of rural children requiring hospital admission for the treatment of dental decay.
Find out more
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1999, Achievements in public health, 1990-1999: fluoridation of drinking water to prevent dental caries, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia.
Department of Health and Human Services 2018, Victorian Health Information Surveillance System data on preventable hospitalisations for Victorians, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.
Reviewed 11 March 2023