A local task force is ready to rally for Independence to put its money where its mouth is.
The group is petitioning the city for a higher amount of fluoride in the public water system.
“The main reason we’d like to have fluoride in the water is it prevents dental disease,” said task force chairman Kenneth Weinand, an Independence dentist.
Weinand says he is backed by the 120 members of the local dental community as well as local physicians, hygienists and school nurses.
Independence is the largest city in Missouri not to have fluoridated water. Kansas City fluoridates its water as do St. Louis, Springfield and Columbia. Independence supplies water to 11 cities and water districts, including Blue Springs, Grain Valley and Oak Grove.
Larry Jones, director of the city of Independence Health Department, has spent the better part of six months outlining a course of action on key health issues he wants to tackle in the next few years.
“In trying to assess the needs of the community, I’ve identified with staff 12 areas where we could use improvement,” Jones said. “Water fluoridation is one of the 12 areas.”
Others include mosquito control, dealing with the city’s high annual death rate from cancer, and education about bio-terrorism. Jones said an unofficial questionnaire among those attending neighborhood meetings showed fluoride was in the top three issues for many citizens.
“There’s fluoride in the water,” said Independence dentist Dr. David Schaefer, “We just want to bring it up to the optimum level.”
The optimum level, according to the task force, is 1 part per million.
Tests indicate Independence water contains between 0.23 and 0.4 parts per million, naturally occurring, Jones said. Up to 4.0 parts per million is considered safe, according to the American Dental Association, a strong supporter of public fluoride programs.
Local dentists and hygienists use a topical application of fluoride, such as paste, in periodic visits to schools, but fluoride in the water would do more to combat tooth decay in the rest of the population, Weinand said.
“Systemic (flouride) is better because it goes into the system and prevents dental disease,” he said. “The systemic benefit is to children ages zero to 5. That’s really a biggie because their teeth are forming then. All children who are born after we start this will see a 70 percent reduction in tooth decay over time.”
The ADA states communities with fluoride in the water have improvements of 20 to 70 percent.
Weinand said the initiative would cost about 15 cents per year per person.
“Fluoridation is the most cost-effective way to fight dental disease,” he said.
Other dentists agree that the public could use more fluoride.
“The biggest plus from my view is everybody gets it,” said Dr. Roy Schaefer, a former dentist. “If you don’t have the income and you can’t afford whatever everybody else can you still get what’s naturally in every water system … We’re one of the few communities left behind on this one.”
The mere mention of the word fluoride can trigger comments or campaigning from the skeptics, members of the group say, but they have a solution called education.
“They just don’t realize it and haven’t studied it,” Weinand said. “People see and hear things that aren’t valid sometimes.”
Some skeptics claim fluoride is a poison, but the ADA states that levels used in city water supplies are well below any level of harm.
Weinand said people come forward with claims that fluoride causes cancer or kidney problems, but the negative studies are unsubstantiated by the ADA, which catalogs more than 10,000 studies on fluoride.
In about 1974, Weinand said, the City Council passed an ordinance supporting fluoride in the water supply, but the ordinance was repealed.
“What’s always been amazing to me as a dentist who left to become a minister, is the people who benefit the least from this, the dentists, are the biggest advocates,” Roy Schaefer said, adding that dentists will possibly lose some business if people have stronger teeth.
“The reason we’re for it is we know so much about it,” Weinand added.
As education grows, so too does the group, increasing from five to 30 members.
“We’re actively working to build our coalition further,” Weinand said.
The coalition would have to include the communities that buy water supplies from Independence, Weinand said.
Half of Blue Springs’ water originates from Independence and half originates in Kansas City, which has an average amount of fluoride, according to Jeff Shook, assistant director of the Blue Springs Public Works Department.
When mixed, the level of fluoride is low but evident. The addition of 1 ppm of fluoride to Independence water would still leave Blue Springs well below the recommended fluoride ceiling of 4 ppm.
Blue Springs is on the supporting end, Shook said. “It would be beneficial.”
There are two ways, Weinand said, to get fluoride in the Independence water supply, either through a vote of the people or an ordinance passed by the City Council.
“The biggest challenge is probably getting everyone educated,” Weinand said, “And it’s a big job.”
Weinand said he has support from Jones and other city officials.
Weinand said the group has no intention to try to get the initiative on the city’s plate until after the Aug. 6 election, but he said the group has a goal of getting the fluoride in the water by Jan. 1.
Weinand said it is not the goal of the group to stir up politics.
“The way we look at it is it’s not a political issue but it’s turned into that,” Weinand said … “We know it’s safe and effective.”
Weinand said, “We want to bring Independence up to the 21st century.”