Albuquerque stopped adding fluoride to drinking water in 2011 but could resume the practice under a measure introduced this week to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.
The measure has champions among dental and child health professionals who say the mineral is vital for good oral health, especially for children.
The measure, introduced Wednesday by Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, would require the utility to resume drinking water fluoridation at an estimated cost of $400,000 a year.
The water utility board will take final action on the proposal on Feb. 26.
Fluoride concentrations vary in the Albuquerque area from 0.4 to 0.7 parts per million, or milligrams of fluoride per liter of water. The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority posted a map of fluoride levels in the area at abcwua.org/Flouride.aspx.
“Water fluoridation is one of the top 10 public health achievements of the last century,” said Mary Altenberg, executive director of Community Dental Services, a nonprofit that serves low-income families in the Albuquerque area.
Fluoridated water improves dental health for low-income people who too often lack access to regular dental care and fluoridated products like toothpaste and mouthwash, Altenberg said.
“It has been proven safe, it has been proven effective,” she said. “There is no denying that it has made inroads in reducing the number of cavities in children and adults.”
Albuquerque’s drinking water contains natural fluoridation that varies throughout the region. Staff members at the water utility ended supplemental fluoridation in March 2011.
Utility spokesman David Morris said at the time that supplemental fluoridation was stopped because natural fluoride concentrations met those recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fluoride concentrations at the entry points for Albuquerque’s water supply were 0.7 parts per million, which met the CDC recommendations, Morris said.
Fluoride levels at the tap are lower and vary throughout the region, ranging from 0.4 to 0.7 parts per million, according to the water utility authority.
Morris said one factor affecting fluoride levels is the city’s increasing use of river water from the San Juan-Chama drinking water plant, which has low fluoride concentrations.
Hart Stebbins’ proposal includes a one-time $400,000 appropriation to build a fluoridation system at the San Juan-Chama plant.
Hart Stebbins said water fluoridation has proven controversial in Santa Fe and elsewhere and she expects many people to weigh in before the board takes a final vote next month.
A 2012 proposal to end supplemental fluoridation in Santa Fe led to months of public discussion in which some residents said that fluoride has potential health risks for children.
City of Santa Fe spokeswoman Celina Westervelt said the city now adds fluoride to the water supply if concentrations fall below 0.7 parts per million.