To obtain funding for water fluoridation, the city of Fort Smith may only have to ask.
“For the city of Fort Smith, they should be able to get a full grant to purchase the equipment and pay for its installation, a grant for fluoridation from Delta Dental,” Caryol Hendricks said. “The city will have to apply, but I have been told from the top level that the city of Fort Smith will get it as soon as they apply.”
Hendricks, the executive director of the local Employers’ Health Coalition, has been asking for water fluoridation for four years.
On Wednesday, the Arkansas Legislature passed a bill requiring water systems in Arkansas serving 5,000 or more people to add fluoride to public drinking water.
The bill would affect 32 communities, including Fort Smith, that currently do not fluoridate drinking water. Fort Smith is the largest city in the state without fluoridated water.
Delta Dental Plans Association, a dental care nonprofit organization, has pledged to pay start-up expenses for the affected communities.
Greenwood Mayor Del Gabbard said he hopes to finalize a deal later this year for that city to purchase all its water from James Fork Regional Water District. James Fork already fluoridates its water. Doing that should save the city between $12,000 and $15,000 annually, he estimates.
Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack said the cost to Fort Smith likely will be several hundred thousand dollars to start fluoridation. Operating costs also won’t be cheap, he said, although the federal Environmental Protection Agency recently has revised its guidelines downward to allow for less fluoride.
Gosack said he asked city utilities staff on Wednesday to begin drawing up more precise estimates of the cost of equipment and materials for fluoridating.
“Once we have the cost estimates, we’ll review them with the Board of Directors, then seek their authorization to apply for the grant from Delta Dental,” he said.
Utilities Director Steve Parke said fluoride is a volatile acid that when collected in a single, large quantity requires separate storage apart from other water treatment facilities and equipment.
Acid-resistant surfaces, tanks, feeder equipment and bulk storage will be needed.
Bill Maddox, former Fort Smith Ward 4 director, said he is opposed to fluoridation on philosophical and practical grounds.
“I think the Legislature has overstepped its bounds,” he said. “That’s a local decision that should be made by each city. There’s been a lot of talk about fluoridation. Some cities have discovered it … mottles kids’ teeth with brown spots.”
He said fluoridated water may help fight tooth decay in some children, but he questions its usefulness for adults.
“It is forced medication,” Maddox said. “They’re trying to compare vaccinations for measles and childhood diseases to fluoridation, but there’s a big difference. Bad teeth are not contagious. Bad teeth come generally from bad personal hygiene.”
Hendricks said the Arkansas surgeon general challenged the EHC four years ago to push for wider fluoridation in the state and is excited by what the Legislature did.
“It will help reduce costs for dental plans,” she said. “That alone will far outweigh the cost of the fluoride. The benefits to these kids with fluoride in the water can’t be overstated.”