For more than a year now, a debate has raged on these opinion pages and elsewhere over a public health effort that’s been carried out for decades: the community-wide fluoridation of city or town-run water systems.
Recently, a number of dedicated and vocal activists have pushed hard to bring that practice to an end. That’s especially been the case here on Cape Ann, where members of a group called the Cape Ann Fluoride Action Network have succeeded in getting questions on election ballots in Rockport and Gloucester alike.
But, while Gloucester residents can continue to debate the issue through November, Rockport voters on Tuesday will make their choice when they trek to the polls.
There, they will be asked a simple question: “Are you in favor of discontinuing the fluoride supplementation of the Rockport water supply?” And they should deliver the most basic of answers: “No” — without getting the chance to add “absolutely not.”
Those beating the drums to end the process of fluoridation here on Cape Ann, across a handful of other North Shore communities and beyond are, by all counts, well-intended. And they have raised some interesting points — notably whether the government of any city, town, or state should be requiring residents to drink water that includes a substance they may not want.
The truth, however, is that any government should take — or continue to take — steps that provide for the public health of the community. Despite diehard activists’ claims to the contrary, there seems little question that fluoridation helps provided for our dental health, especially in the mouths of children. And supplementing the fluoride that naturally occurs within our water supplies gives all children and families — regardless of means — an equal shot at healthy teeth. That’s an important factor of community-wide fluoridation that should not be forgotten.
The arguments for and against fluoridation have, by now, become very familiar. In general, area dentists and boards of health have supported keeping the current systems in place – largely because they have proven effective.
Those looking to stop community fluoridation don’t buy that, and have generally stood by alarmist claims that fluoride is toxic, a danger to our health — in some cases, drawn from industrial waste brought over from China and unceremoniously dumped into our water supplies.
Is any of that true? Is fluoride toxic? Is the addition of fluoride to our water actually a potentially deadly health hazard?
Yes — if any of us were to drink perhaps a gallon of pure fluoride a day, or a few bucketfuls a week. But the 1 part per million (PPM) of fluoride added through the supplementation programs is a far, far cry from any hazard, and has been beneficial. Indeed, community fluoridation has been hailed nationally as one of the public health success stories of that last 70 years.
It may be most telling that, in the early stages of Cape Ann’s own fluoridation debate last year, more than 30 local dentists signed on to a letter expressing their support for continuing the practice. Yet he most convincing argument in this debate may have come just this week from Rockport dentist Russell Standfield in a letter to the Times.
“Look in someone’s mouth who is over 40 years old. I’ll bet you’ll see fillings, crowns, even missing teeth,” wrote Standfield, who, as a member of Rockport’s Board of Health will be joining colleagues in hosting a panel on the issue tonight from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Rockport Public Library. “Now look at someone of 35 or younger, raised on Gloucester or Rockport water — you’ll see hardly any restoration. This is a simple observation and can’t be argued.”
Fluoridation isn’t harmful, it works. And Rockporters should reinforce that with an emphatic “no” vote to maintain, not discontinue, a process that has benefits the town’s public health.