FAIRBANKS — Whether it’s a cavity-fighting boon or a politicized health risk, fluoridation was once again the subject of debate in Fairbanks.
The city of Fairbanks’ Fluoride Task Force heard arguments for and against the chemical, which has been added to city water for a half-century.
Representatives for the Alaska Dental Society and Fluoride-Free Fairbanks had 30 minutes to make presentations to the panel — a collection of six scientists, medical professionals and academics who volunteered to make a recommendation to the city about fluoridating the local water supply.
Fairbanks dentists Jim Cerney, John Woller and Heather Willis promoted fluoride as an effective and safe way to get the enamel-hardening substance to the community, especially those who lack proper dental services.
They cited a Colorado study that stated fluoridated communities collectively saved $150 million dollars in dental costs by treating the water.
“Alaska is underserved in dental providers, and removing a benefit where you’re making 40 to 1 on your dollar would seriously put a strain on that system,” Woller said.
Fluoride-Free Fairbanks leader Douglas Yates and Fairbanks dentist Craig O’Donoghue countered by saying there is no proof that fluoridation has improved dental health. They also cautioned the panel of its health risks.
They pointed to studies that show the percentage of population served by fluoridated water had no apparent connection with dental health.
As dental health has improved almost worldwide, there’s no indicator that nations that use more fluoridated water are reaping any extra benefits, O’Donoghue said.
“If we can’t say absolutely for certain that fluoridated water is the thing that is making this happen then we need to take it out, and then we’ll let people choose,” said O’Donoghue, who noted that he was a proponent of fluoridation when he began his general practice 11 years ago.
The target range for fluoridated water is 0.7-1.2 ppm, said Woller, who was representing the American Dental Association. The Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contamination level for the substance is 4 ppm.
At the target concentration, the worst side effect Woller identified was mild dental fluorosis, which he called a cosmetic condition with no serious health effects.
“You’re going to hear claims of toxicity. You’re going to hear claims of harm,” he said, “but the true scientific evidence will show these accusations are false.”
Cerney said that while fluoridated vitamins and toothpaste are dangerous when ingested in high amounts, fluoridated water is safe in basically any sense.
“Fluoride is a safe substance, but it’s dose-related, just like aspirin,” Cerney said.
But giving an entire city the same dose is a “shotgun approach” that doesn’t make much sense to O’Donoghue.
“We’re getting fluoride from every source out there,” he said, referring to foods, toothpaste and other topical treatments. “We’re getting it from everywhere, and it’s not being controlled as a doctor should control an application.”
O’Donoghue also disagreed with Woller’s assessment of fluorosis, saying that the disease can harm dentin, one of the four main components of teeth.
Rainer Newberry, Joan Braddock, Brice Taylor and Paul Reichardt were the four task force members in attendance.