GRANGER — When Pam Stesiak and her husband, Jeff, moved to Granger more than 10 years ago, she remembered hearing something about a fluoride issue with the water system.
Shortly after her children were born, Stesiak said, their family dentist prescribed fluoride supplements for the kids to make up for the loss. Riley, now 10, and Regan, 6, have been taking the supplements ever since.
The children take the pills during teeth-brushing time, Stesiak said, adding that both her children have great teeth.
But health department officials say not all Granger residents are aware that their private water wells lack the recommended amount of fluoride for children.
While the public water system is fluoridated, the process cannot be repeated in private wells. “Our county is unusual, we have almost no fluoride in ground water,” says Marc Nelson, environmental manager for the St. Joseph County Health Department. “(Granger) children are probably not getting enough for their health.”
The fluoride contained in toothpaste and other foods is not sufficient, Nelson says.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend children receive between .30 and 1.0 parts per million of fluoride in their water.
Fluoride for children is vital to prevent tooth decay and prevent cavities, Nelson explains, especially for children from six months to 16 years old.
But homes in Granger and surrounding areas don’t come with signs explaining the absence of fluoride in the water. It’s up to health care experts to educate parents.And not everyone is a fluoride fan.
Filling up on flouride
As a practicing dentist in the South Bend and Granger areas for 35 years, Gary Pippenger with The Dental Center has seen his share of teeth.
Despite the lack of fluoride in Granger water, Pippenger says, he has not necessarily noticed an increase in tooth decay in Granger children.
A variety of reasons lead to tooth decay, Pippenger explained, including sugary diets and poor hygiene. “I would say I’ve seen, particularly in rural and low-income areas, a great deal of decay,” he said. “One problem I see occasionally (in Granger) are supplements started, but somehow … it kind of stops.”
Because some children may not visit the dentist until they are toddlers, pediatricians should also be informing parents of the fluoride recommendations.
Dr. Rita Cortese, a Granger pediatrician, said she asks each of her parents what kind of water their children are drinking and to check where it’s coming from.
“We’re seeing a lot of cavities in children 2 and 3 years old,” she said. “(Supplements) are a preventative measure.”
But not all parents are being told about the fluoride lack. Granger resident Laurie Piekarz only recently heard about the fluoride deficiency when a reporter mentioned the issue.
Piekarz has lived in Granger with her husband and two children, ages 6 and 9, for four years, and had never been told about the needed supplements.
“I’m definitely discouraged,” she said. “I would have hoped the doctor would have told me.”
Piekarz said her family primarily drinks bottled water, which health officials say sometimes contains fluoride.
Nelson said consumers should read the labels on bottled water to determine possible fluoride levels. Of course, not everyone agrees with the practice of fluoridated water to begin with or believes it has benefits.
Almost as long as fluoride has been added to water, groups have been fighting the tide.
In January 1945, Grand Rapids became the first city to fluoridate its water in an effort by health officials to measure the effects.
During the test, tooth decay dropped drastically and since then, fluoride has been added to public water systems across the country, according to Linda Orgain, health community specialist with the CDC. Indiana ranks sixth in the nation among fluoridated states at 95.5 percent, according to recent CDC statistics. While many health advocates consider this rate a success, Carol Kopf believes it’s a disaster.
Kopf, with the New York State Coalition Opposed to Fluoridation, says recent studies show Americans are “fluoride overdosed,” leading to toxic effects and rising cavity rates.
“Studies are showing that fluoride is not a nutrient,” Kopf said. “And nobody was ever fluoride-deficient.”
The coalition believes the Grand Rapids test never proved that the drop in decay was linked to the fluoridation and that other factors contributed to dental changes during that time period.
The coalition cites a National Research Council committee study that shows fluoride can negatively affect the thyroid and other studies such as one in China that shows fluoride lowers IQ. When asked about any large scale studies, Kopf said that it’s difficult to fund widespread studies considering the majority of experts will not consider looking at adverse effects.
She believes national dental associations advocating fluoride has to do with politics and not health concerns.
“Can I prove any of this?” Kopf asked. “No.”
Dental experts have never disputed that too much fluoride isn’t healthy. Overdoing it on fluoride can cause fluorosis, resulting in pitted teeth or white mottling, explains Granger dentist Kevin Campbell.
“That’s nothing new,” He said. “You learn that when you’re a freshman in dental school.”
But the optimal amount is extremely beneficial, he said.
The CDC’s Orgain says years of studies have shown the connection between fluoride and lower tooth decay.
The practice of fluoridation has been backed by professional health organizations, governments worldwide, and the last five U.S. surgeons general. “We have to look at the preponderance of evidence and evidence reviews,” Orgain said.
Campbell said it’s understandable that some groups are against adding foreign substances to public water, but fluoride?
“Lets not add arsenic or poisons (to the water),” he said. “But fluoride is going to help prevent tooth decay.”