Spotlight: Dental prof studies use of fluoride


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Steven Levy is a tooth expert.

The 54-year-old University of Iowa dental professor is a lead researcher with an extensive team of collaborators on the Iowa Fluoride Study and Iowa Bone Development Study. The studies and examinations investigate the fluoride intake and dental fluorosis in several hundred of the nation’s youth.

Not enough fluoride, and cavities may come calling. Too much, and the teeth might accumulate yellow or orange stains, and bone development may be adversely affected.

Recently, Levy — who is also the associate director of the graduate program in the Preventive and Community Dentistry Department — has stepped up for his colleagues in terms of community-water fluoridation.

In Johnson County, everyone gets some exposure to fluoride. However, not everyone agrees about fluoride’s benefits, especially if parties are “adjusting” their fluoride levels. Levy said, for example, Coralville does not add fluoride to its water; Iowa City and the University of Iowa do.

There are certain dental benefits people can take advantage of in today’s society that weren’t around when the initial uproar over fluoride and potential dental problems began, he said.

“Everyone is getting fluoride benefits already, with water on top of that,” the professor said in the bare, white walls of the Dental Science Building. “Toothpastes and mouth rinse are the other forms [of fluoride] that many people use.”

The Washington Township, N.J., native’s research with the fluoride study has consisted of monitoring a group of individuals from birth in relation to their fluoride exposure. Those children are now 15 to 18 years old, signaling the end is near for the study. The study is completely observational, Levy said.

Over, the years of the study, the research has been supported by a number of grants, including the Carver Trust Charitable — an endeavor of other UI academia — and the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation.

“It’s been quite remarkable that we’ve been able to keep the [study] going for this long, which is a testament to both the participants in the study and [Levy’s] determination to keep writing grants,” said colleague John Warren, a professor in the UI School of Dentistry. “As a result, the [study] might be the most recognized dental study in the world.

“I think people will still be reading our papers 20 or 30 years from now — that’s kind of a scary thought.”

Levy, who majored in statistics at Princeton University and went on to dental school at the University of North Carolina, has been at the UI since 1984.

He and wife Barcey cited the quality of life in Iowa and being able to raise a family near the university as reasons they have stayed in the Heartland for so long.

“Right when we got here, everyone was so friendly,” Barcey Levy said. “We’ve been comfortable in Iowa City ever since [we moved from the East].”

For Levy, the dental school has been a tremendously enjoyable experience for him over the years.

“People work together here,” he said. “At some places, you might have world-renowned people, but they wouldn’t ever want to talk to anybody else, or [their] barriers go up. Here, there is a lot of collaboration across campus, and that is a great thing.”

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