Fluoride has become a very important compound in regards to dental health. It is so highly regarded in fact that the United States made fluoridated public water official policy in 1951. Let’s talk about how the brown stains on the teeth of Colorado Springs residents helped reform cavity prevention.

Prior to manufactured toothpastes, people had dentifrice-an abrasive tooth powder made from coal, ground up shells, bones, hoofs, eggshells, and a variety of other ingredients that were carefully broken down into a fine powder. In 1892 a British dentist named James Crichton Browne made an observation that diets deficient in fluoride resulted in expedited tooth decay (Pickover 310).

In 1901 Frederick Mckay took note of a rather strange occurrence in Colorado Springs. Many residents had dark brown stains on their teeth, making them appear to have eaten a mouthful of chocolate. This stain was nicknamed the Colorado brown stain (sounds unpleasant). This occurrence of tooth mottling or fluorosis made teeth highly resistant to cavities. In 1923, he traveled to Oakley, Idaho and responded to reports of kids experiencing brown staining on their teeth seemingly out of nowhere. A new communal pipeline had recently been installed to a spring a few miles away. Mckay ordered the pipeline be altered and the stain eventually went away. Finally in Bauxite, Arkansas Mckay ordered the water to be analyzed by specialists. The report showed high levels of fluoride in the water. Frederick Mckay had the water from Colorado Springs tested and the results were the same. Fluorosis occurs in the early stages of development if the teeth are overexposed to fluoride. The effects are typically only cosmetic and there is usually no weakening of the teeth themselves. 

Photo of Frederick Mckay. Image Credit: Public Health Image Library

In 1945 the water in Grand Rapids, Michigan was fluorated and resulted in fewer cavities reported. Many people believe that the government putting fluoride in the water is unethical since it could be defined as a medical treatment that people are unable to consent to (Pickover 310). Conspiracies in the 1950s surfaced stating that the fluoride policy was actually a communist plot devised to sicken American citizens. Conspiracies exist even today with some believing that fluoride has been put in the water to make residents slower and more complacent. Most people though are just thankful that the fluoride puts a protective coating on their teeth and keeps them out of the dental chair. 

Check out my post about cigarettes and hospitals HERE

Until Next Time



–      Pickover, Clifford A. The Medical Book: From Witch Doctors to Robot Surgeons: 250 Milestones in the History of Medicine. Sterling Publishing: NY, 2012. Print.

-“The Weird & Kind of Disgusting History of Fluoride.” Frisco Mini Molars. Accessed 12 January, 2022. friscominimolar.com/weird-kind-disgusting-history-fluoride/

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