The Au Gres City Council agreed to research the possibility of adding fluoride added to the city’s water supply during its regular meeting Feb. 5.
Dental hygienist Lisa Wiltse brought up the idea during the council’s public comments period, and said the American Dental Association has an annual grant that provides up to $24,000 to install the equipment needed to add fluoride to a municipality’s drinking water.
“There is plenty of information from studies done by the American Dental Association stating fluoride is a good thing that reduces the cost and amount of dental work,” Wiltse said. “I know where I grew up, they didn’t add fluoride, and now I’ve got a mouth full of dental work because of it.”
She said the addition of fluoride would be beneficial to people of all ages, but primarily children, as the fluoride helps strengthen their teeth as they come in. It particularly has an impact on lower socio-economic groups, she said, who are not able to get dental care as often as recommended.
The proposal is personal for Wiltse as well, as she resides in Au Gres and has twins who needed to go on fluoride drops to get what they are lacking from the water supply.
According to Wiltse, fluoride is also a naturally occurring substance in the environment and in water supplies across the world, but is not usually present in great enough amounts to have an impact on tooth decay.
According to the American Dental Association, drinking water with an optimal amount of fluoride is known to reduce cavities and tooth decay by anywhere from 20-40 percent. The Centers for Disease Control considers it one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the 20th century, and an estimated 72 percent of the U.S. population served by public water systems gets fluoridated water.
The deadline for a grant application was last week, and Wiltse said if the council gave their authorization she would apply for it. Then, if they decided not to go ahead with the project, they could simply turn down the funds, but if it were approved they could go ahead this year.
Au Gres Mayor LaVern Dittenber said the city council looked into adding fluoride about 20-25 years ago and decided it was not a good idea.
“At the time we looked into it, we were concerned about side effects,” Dittenber said.
Wiltse said that while a lot of people are worried about fluoride being toxic, it only is in large doses — which, she said, practically everything is.
“If it is monitored as chlorine is monitored in water to clean out bacteria, (the fluoride) is completely safe for the body,” she said. “There are many studies that are peer reviewed, plus scientific evidence, that it is safe for people of all ages.”
Wiltse explained that chlorine, another substance added to drinking water to kill bacteria, is a toxic substance to humans in larger doses. However, it is measured and tested an average of twice a day in water treatment facilities, and fluoride would be treated much the same way.
She added she could provide the council with studies and research from the ADA to help them make a decision on the matter, and would be willing to see about getting local dentists Dr. Scott McAlindon and Dr. Andrew Dwan to come to the council’s next meeting to answer their questions and concerns.
City Manager Pat Killingbeck said the city council also had concerns about the caustic impact of fluoride on the environment, and acknowledged that the staff is not particularly enthused about the idea for that reason.
Wiltse said a study done in the state of Washington under its Environmental Policy Act found that fluoride had no adverse effect on the environment in the amounts used in drinking water.
The council declined to move on the matter, however, so the earliest the city can apply for the grant is 2014.
Wiltse said Standish got its own fluoride treatment in place around 2011-2012. Its installation and equipment costs came out to about $5,000, and the city pays $80-100 a month for the fluoride itself. In practice, she said for Au Gres it may raise the water bill by a couple dollars.
She said she also had previously spoken to Frances Semenick at the Sims-Whitney Water Board about adding fluoride to their water, but had been unable to attend any of their meetings by the deadline to see about applying for the grant.