CANTON — In the decade since the village stopped fluoridating its water, there is no proof that dental decay has risen, but anecdotal reports from dentists are worrisome.
At St. Lawrence County Dental Society meetings, dentists who primarily treat Canton residents railed against significant increases in dental decay in 5- and 6-year-olds about three years after the village stopped fluoridating, society President Nicholas F. Gardner said. The village formally decided to stop in 2003 but had not added fluoride to the water supply for more than a year before, when it installed a new system on Waterman Hill.
The three-year mark fits the timing the American Dental Association expects dental decay to show up after an area stops fluoridating.
“Most studies that have been reported were done five years after the fact, but you don’t know what it was before,” said Dr. Howard F. Pollick, a clinical professor at the University of California at San Francisco and a spokesman for the ADA. “Whatever the level of tooth decay is now would be just one point in time.”
Most dentists do not track patients based on where they live, just on what they see when they look in their mouths.
“If there are no cavities, whatever they’re doing is working,” Dr. Elaine M. Kuracina said. “If I see there are cavities, then I ask.”
Generally, throughout New York state, at least 23 percent of children in the 2-to-5 age range have dental cavities. North country statistics are that 45 percent of that age group has cavities, said Judith R. Overton, director of dental services for the North Country Children’s Clinic.
A dentist’s care is not easy to obtain without money or private dental insurance. With the exception of the Children’s Clinic, the Cerebral Palsy Health Care Center in Canton and a handful of other community and school-based clinics, many dentists do not accept Medicaid or Child Health Plus, Mrs. Overton said.
Canton stopped fluoridating its water at the urging of Paul H. Connett, a professor emeritus of chemistry at St. Lawrence University and head of Fluoride Action Network. Mr. Connett, who can cite numerous studies that show fluoride can have dangerous side effects, continues to campaign wherever he can against its use.
Based on recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Potsdam and Massena recently reduced the level of fluoride they add to municipal water.
The American Dental Association still believes fluoride in water systems is vital to dental health. For those without fluoridated water for whom fluoridated toothpaste, rinses and dental treatments are not enough, the ADA suggests fluoride drops.
Topical application is more effective, Dr. Gardner said, and prescribing fluoride drops, if done properly, requires research.
“To do it well and do it correctly, you really have to test the water,” Dr. Gardner said. “Otherwise, I’m blindly prescribing something they may not need.”
Excessive fluoride exposure increases the risk of damaging the enamel, Mr. Connett said.
“Of even greater concern — but still unacknowledged by those who continue to promote fluoridation — is the possibility that fluoride can interfere with the developing brain,” Mr. Connett wrote. “What parent in his or her right mind would put protecting their child’s teeth above protecting their brains?”