DURHAM, NC — Increased intake of dietary calcium may be key to addressing widespread dental health problems faced by millions of rural residents in Ethiopia’s remote, poverty-stricken Main Rift Valley, according to a new Duke University-led study.
As many as 8 million people living in the valley are estimated to be at risk of dental and skeletal fluorosis as a result of their long-term exposure to high levels of naturally occurring fluoride in the region’s groundwater.
Fluoride is essential for healthy tooth enamel development, but consuming too much of it can damage enamel and bones, particularly in children between the ages of 3 months and 8 years. Mild to moderate fluorosis typically results in permanent discoloring and disfiguration of tooth enamel. Severe fluorosis can cause chronic pain and lead to tooth and bone loss.
Most efforts to combat fluorosis in the region have focused primarily on treating drinking water to reduce its fluoride content.
The new Duke-led study, published online in the journal Environment International (www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412012000530), finds that these efforts “may not be sufficient on their own, because of the region’s geology and the low threshold of exposure at which we found fluorosis was likely to occur,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.