BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A state official says that dental decay at the high school serving Bennington can be attributed to a lack of fluoride in public water supply.
A 1994 survey of nine high schools found that students at Mount Anthony Union High School had an average of seven decayed, missing and filled surfaces each, according to Dr. Tommy Ivey, dental director for the Department of Health.
The state average for 14- and 15-year-olds was just more than four decayed, missing and filled surfaces, he said.
“We found the worst dental health in any high school by far was at Mount Anthony,” Ivey said. “There’s a lot of decay down in the Bennington area.”
In the past 25 years, town officials have twice rejected proposals to add fluoride to the water supply. The issue was revived last month when local dentists presented the Select Board with a petition signed by 300 supporters of the measure. The board set a public hearing for March 27.
Opponents, meanwhile, formed a group calling itself Bennington Citizens Against Fluoridated Water. They have taken to the airwaves and sponsored meetings to spread their message that fluoride presents unacceptable health risks.
The opponents gained ammunition last week when Dartmouth College drew attention to a recent article in the journal NeuroToxicology written by professor Roger D. Masters.
Masters headed a research team that reportedly found evidence that public drinking water treated with silicofluorides, known as SiFs, was linked to a higher uptake of lead in children.
Masters’ team reported that the greatest likelihood of children having elevated blood lead levels occurs when they were exposed both to known risk factors, such as old house paint and lead in soil or water, and to SiF-treated drinking water.
“Our research needs further laboratory testing,” Masters said. “This should have the highest priority because our preliminary findings show correlations between SiF use and more behavior problems due to known effects of lead on brain chemistry.”
Masters drew a distinction between SiFs and sodium fluoride. SiFs are used in drinking water delivered to 140 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control. By contrast, sodium fluoride, which was first added to public drinking water in 1945, is now used in less than 10 percent of fluoridation systems nationwide.
Masters said in an interview that he could not speak with authority about the effects of sodium fluoride. “I don’t know enough,” he said. “But I don’t know if anybody knows enough about brain chemistry.”
If Bennington chose to fight dental decay through its water supply, it would have a choice between SiFs and sodium fluoride, according to Ivey. Large water systems rely on SiFs, which are added in liquid form and are easier to use, he said. Smaller systems use sodium fluoride, which comes as a powder, making it more labor intensive.
“Bennington has their choice. They’re right on the borderline,” Ivey said.
While Ivey said he was unfamiliar with the NeuroToxicology article, he cautioned against placing too much weight on Masters’ conclusions.
Several “huge studies,” including one conducted by the University of York last year, found that there were “no adverse health effects” from either type of fluoride when used at optimal levels, according to Ivey.
“They have convinced me,” he said.