The Fluoride Guy

Putting a dent in dental disease

UF professor (and resident fluoride expert) Scott Tomar has spent his career improving oral health in the community

By Emily Miller

Larisha Stephens, 9, has her teeth examined by Scott Tomar, D.M.D., Dr.PH.

Looking into the mouth of Scott L. Tomar, D.M.D., Dr.PH., one wouldn’t be quick to assume the professor of community dentistry and behavioral science with the UF College of Dentistry spends each day fighting dental disease.

“Growing up we had no dental insurance and in fact my parents were not particularly prevention-oriented, so I actually had very little involvement with dentistry as a young kid,” he said. “The good thing is I still have all of my teeth. The downside is they all have huge fillings or crowns on them.”

Tomar resolved to become a dentist at the age of 18. After graduating from dental school and spending about four years as a general dentist, his aspirations changed. The husband and father returned to school to earn a master’s degree in public health.

“It was a whole world that I frankly did not know existed, and it’s a whole different way of viewing how you deal with health problems,” he said. “One thing I learned early on is I don’t care how good a dentist you are, you could treat patients from sunrise to sunset five days a week and you will not make a dent in disease.”

For about 15 years, one area that Tomar has focused on is oral disease prevention through community water fluoridation, the adjustment of the fluoride levels in drinking water to optimal levels to prevent tooth decay. Before coming to UF about 12 years ago, Tomar worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Division of Oral Health.

“One of their major programs in that division is community water fluoridation, so I was involved with it when I was with CDC, and I’ve continued my involvement since I’ve been here (at UF),” he said. “Ideally we’d love to see all Americans have access to optimally fluoridated community water supplies.”

Fluoride is a mineral found naturally in virtually all bodies of water, rocks and soil. Studies in the 1930s found that the levels of tooth decay varied among communities based on the naturally occurring fluoride levels in their drinking water. As a result, communities began adjusting the fluoride levels found in drinking water to prevent tooth decay.

Tomar said community water fluoridation is practically the perfect way to deliver a preventive substance to the population.

“One reason why water fluoridation works so well is because it actually has its greatest benefit on those who have the least access to alternate forms of fluoride,” he said. “Water fluoridation is one of incredibly few measures that not only prevents disease, but actually saves money.”

Community water fluoridation holds a special significance for Gators because Gainesville was the first city in Florida to fluoridate its water.

“In 1949 community water fluoridation in Florida first began here in Gainesville, decades before we had a College of Dentistry here and actually years before virtually all the major cities in this country,” Tomar said. “It’s something we should be incredibly proud of.”