To fluoridate or not to fluoridate?
The debate over adding fluoride to public drinking water has raged on and off for the better part of a century. Now it’s back on the agenda of the Denver Water Board, which provides water to 1.3 million metro residents.
Times change, science evolves and public attitudes shift, so it’s to the board’s credit that it is re-examining the issue. But when the board does make its decision, probably later this month, we hope it sticks with its policy of fluoridating water by the amount recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in order to minimize tooth decay.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers water fluoridation one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. Not only did tooth decay become far less prevalent but Americans also were far more likely to retain their permanent teeth into old age.
The optimal amount of fluoride recommended by HHS was actually lowered this year to 0.7 milligrams per liter of water from a range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligram per liter. The department explained that “Americans now have access to more sources of fluoride, such as toothpaste and mouth rinses, than they did when water fluoridation was first introduced.” But Denver has been targeting 0.7 milligrams since 2011, when it too lowered its goal.
Fluoride occurs naturally in Denver water, so the department only has to supplement the background source — which it has done since 1953.
The anti-fluoridation movement was once a right-wing cause led by such groups as the John Birch Society. More recently, the movement has attracted elements of the environmental left.
At its recent meeting, the Water Board heard from three expert witnesses in favor of fluoridation and three opposed. Opponents included the director of the Fluoride Action Network, who argued that government experts are resistant to new evidence that contradicts long-held beliefs. Such a possibility can’t be discounted, of course, which is why board members need to consider the broad range of opinion.
Given the benefits from fluoridated water, however, the evidence for health risks should be quite compelling before board members elect to change course.
We don’t think the evidence rises to that level.