As the Greensburg Water Board continues to wrestle with the idea of re-inserting fluoride into the city’s water supply, the truth about fluoride’s effects have become a serious topic of discussion for residents. Proponents on both sides have fought the issue with passion, citing numerous specific sources.
Like most of the chemicals and acids that can be found in drinking water, fluoride can be harmful and toxic if ingested in large quantities. But the levels of fluoride found in regular tap water is not extending to those levels, according to the Centers For Disease Control (CDC).
Communities like Greensburg have poured in the fluoride to supply a level of the acid that is beneficial to reduce tooth decay. According to the CDC, the mineral fluoride is essential for strong teeth that resist eventual decay. Almost all natural bodies of water on Earth contain some quantity of naturally occurring fluoride, but usually at levels insufficient to prevent tooth erosion.
The CDC Website explains that community water fluoridation is safe. “Extensive research conducted over the past 60 years has shown that fluoridation of public water supplies is safe and effective for all community residents. More recent reviews of the safety of water fluoridation include a comprehensive review of the scientific literature by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1991 and by the University of York in 2000,” according to the CDC.
A primary concern of those worried about fluoride in their water is the effects on children and babies. Fluoridated drinking water can be used for preparing infant formula, the CDC explains. However, the CDC suggests that an increased risk for mild dental fluorosis, or white spotting on teeth, can occur if infants drink exclusively from fluoridated water. The CDC estimates that more than two-thirds of American children and adolescents 19 years old and younger, 91 percent of American adults and 93 percent of Americans over 60 have experienced some form of tooth decay.
However, for the city, the issue is not a spotty lack of concern for the teeth of the community. At the past few meetings of the Greensburg Water Board, water superintendent Rick Denney has explained that a yearly fluoridation treatment of the city’s water would cost about $16,000 to $18,000. According to the CDC, in 2004, an estimated $78 billion was spent on dental services, representing about 5 percent of all expenditures for personal health care in the United States. A CDC study estimated that every $1 invested in community water fluoridation saved $38 in avoided costs for dental treatment. The national average cost to fill one cavity with dental amalgam is approximately $65, or the approximate cost of providing fluoridation to an individual for one lifetime.
Independent studies initiated in both 1945 and 1946 followed four communities and assessed the value of water fluoridation. By 1960, tooth decay rates in those communities declined, on average, 56 percent more than in demographically similar communities whose water supplies were not fluoridated. Now that there are additional ways of obtaining fluoride benefits such as in toothpaste, rinses and professional treatments, as well as in many foods and beverages produced in fluoridated areas. More recent studies show that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay in permanent teeth by approximately 18 percent to 40 percent. Although this reduction in decay is not as dramatic as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, it is significant when compared with tooth decay in many non-fluoridating communities.
Over the years, the overall value and safety of community water fluoridation has been endorsed by: the CDC; the U.S. Surgeons General; the U.S. Task Force on Community Preventive Services; American Dental Association; the American Medical Association; the American Association of Public Health; the U.S. Public Health Service; and the World Health Organization.
On every issue, there are those who are for and against. If the fluoride is pumped back into Greensburg water, removal will be difficult. According to the CDC, most home treatment systems are installed at single faucets and use activated carbon filtration, which does not remove fluoride. Fluoride is not released from water when it is boiled or frozen. One exception would be a water distillation system. These systems heat water to the boiling point and then collect water vapor as it evaporates. Water distillation systems are typically used in laboratories. For home use, these systems can be expensive and may present safety and maintenance concerns.
Another issue often raised about fluoride considers the effects on water piping. The CDC explains that water fluoridation does not increase corrosion of pipes or cause lead to dissolve from pipes and household plumbing fixtures. Although lead in public drinking water is typically found to be very low or is below laboratory detection, there are locations where old lead pipes, solder, or plumbing fixtures in old homes may leach lead into water. This is mainly a problem in some older homes because newer homes have been constructed in accordance with new plumbing standards that prohibit the use of lead in plumbing pipes and fixtures.
“The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) established in a 1979 Memorandum of Agreement that the EPA would regulate drinking water for public water systems and the FDA would regulate consumer beverages, including commercial bottled water. The EPA has issued maximum drinking water contaminant standard for fluoride of 4 mg/L, based on health considerations, and has entered into an agreement with National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International to formulate program standards for drinking water additives. Those standards are known as NSF/ANSI (American National Standards Institute) Standard 60. The FDA requires bottlers to list the chemical used to adjust the fluoride concentration, and permits manufacturers to claim the benefits for improved oral health when fluoride is adjusted to a range of 0.6 to 1.0 mg/L.”
All public water systems are required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to publish an annual Consumer Confidence Report with information about their drinking water including the fluoride level. More information can be found on the Web at www.cdc.gov.