The question of whether to fluoridate Manila’s water supply was a hot topic of debate at the Manila Community Center Tuesday.
Measure B, before Manila voters on Feb. 5, is an advisory measure that asks voters whether they would like the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District to add fluoride to their water if the district decides to implement fluoridation.
The forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, sought to inform the public of the pros and cons of community water fluoridation.
Speaking in support of the measure was Supervisor John Woolley and Steven Schonfeld, a periodontist. Brian Smith, a general/preventative dentist, and Mike Rademaker, who has worked as a research scientist and as an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency consultant, spoke in opposition to the measure.
Members of the audience were able to submit their questions on fluoride to the panel, which included everything from questions about the safety and regulation of fluoride to ethics, alternatives and dental hygiene education.
Each side was given equal amounts of time in which to respond.
One of first questions was about the history of water fluoridation.
Fluoride occurs naturally in most water.
According to the National Cancer Institute, in the 1940s, scientists discovered that people who lived where fluoride occurred naturally in drinking levels of approximately one part fluoride per million parts of water had fewer dental caries, or damage to the structure of the teeth, which includes cavities and tooth decay.
Grand Rapids, Mich. was the first U.S. city to implement water fluoridation in 1945.
In Humboldt County, the cities of Arcata and Eureka fluoridate their water.
Both Woolley and Rademaker agreed no determination has been made on legal basis of the fluoridation of water.
Woolley and Schonfeld said water fluoridation would be beneficial.
“It really comes down to the community being able to make the choice,” Woolley said.
Woolley said adding fluoride to water would be cost-effective, especially during a time when necessary social services are being cut.
The Centers for Disease Control lists water fluoridation among its top 10 public health accomplishments, Schonfeld said.
Among the agencies that advocate water fluoridation are the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association, he said.
“It is supported by many, many people,” he said.
Rademaker said new evidence is emerging indicating that fluoride is not safe, which may be a reflection of a paradigm shift, citing studies the Academy of Sciences, an EPA coalition and the journals Neurotoxicology and Environmental Health Perspectives.
Smith said the ADA does not recommend children ages zero to one drink fluoridated water or ingest it through baby formula due to an increased risk of fluorosis, a tooth defect that affects the appearance of teeth.
In 1999, the CDC said fluoride is most effective when used topically, he said.
Rademaker noted studies displaying the affects of fluoride on IQ, bone fractures and the accumulation of fluoride within areas of the body over time, including the pineal gland, a producer of melatonin located in the brain.
“You really need to have an adequate margin of safety,” Rademaker said, when considering people’s varying sensitivities to fluoride and determining its level of safety.
Schonfeld discredited several of the studies.
“Scientists reach conclusions by weighing all of the evidence,” he said.
“Fluoride helps to prevent cavities. It does not cause harm.”
The one thing both dentists appeared to be in agreement on was the need for responsible dental hygiene and education.
The question of what possible alternatives to fluoride exist was also raised.
Smith said distillation, filtration and bottled water could be alternatives, though it was said bottled water may not be accessible to targeted populations.
It was noted that a majority of Western Europe does not fluoridate its water.
“We know that dental disease is epidemic,” Schonfeld said. “Humboldt County is the poster child for that community. This is a community where you need fluoridation.”
Woolley compared water fluoridation with the use of helmets, addition of Vitamin D to milk and folic acid to cereal.
“I still think that the benefits outweigh the risks,” he said.
Smith said he felt it should be the option of the consumer to choose whether they ingest fluoride in their water.
Fluoridated water doesn’t address access to dental care, he said.
“I really believe a person’s choice is a huge part of this,” Smith said.