BIDDEFORD – In a public hearing, Biddeford area residents discussed November’s referendum on stopping fluoridation of the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Wells Water District (KKW) water. The hearing took place at the Sept. 20 Biddeford City Council meeting. The referendum would affect coastal Biddeford water consumers. The areas that will be voting on the referendum will be Biddeford Pool, Fortunes Rocks, and Granite Point—about 400 eligible voters in total.
“I think the people who want fluoride can get a prescription,” said Pam Jones, of Kennebunk, at the hearing. “But I don’t want prescription medication in my water.”
“I lean somewhat libertarian, so I understand that argument,” said Dr. Dean Tourigny, a Biddeford native and dentist.
But, said Tourigny, he also understands the significance of public health issues. Tourigny spoke at the hearing at Biddeford City Hall and also in a separate interview with the Courier.
“There’s such a benefit here, that we’ve just as a society decided that it’s more beneficial,” Tourigny said.
The families that lose out when water is unflouridated, said Tourigny, are most often poorer families, who either can’t afford fluoride supplements or don’t have the opportunity to be educated about the benefits because they don’t visit dentists.
Maine Water, the water district that provides the remaining part of Biddeford with water, also supplements its water with fluoride, but there is no current effort to stop fluoridation in that case.
Tourigny and others have recently formed a group, called “Healthy Teeth, Healthy Smiles,” to educate and support continued water fluoridation in Maine. The group includes dentists, pediatricians and chemists.
Tourigny wants people to understand that the group’s mission is to promote the public health that they as professionals work to support. This is in spite, Tourigny said, of the obvious fact that healthier teeth means less business for dentists.
“When we come out and we say we want flouridated water, because we know the benefits, we know it’s safe, we know it’s effective, it is totally not in our selfinterest,” Tourigny said.
At the meeting Kennebunkport resident Julie Gerrish cited the Centers for Disease Control for the fact that flouride’s benefits are mainly when applied topically – applied directly to the teeth – rather than systemic, as ingested by drinking water.
Tourigny said fluoridated water provides both benefits.
“If I’m drinking the fluoride water, and I’m young enough that my teeth are developing, I’m actually using fluoride as a building block to the tooth structure, so, I’m making a better tooth,” Tourigny said.
“But it doesn’t only have the ingested benefit,” he continued. “You get fluoride in your saliva, which is a topical process on the tooth. So it continues the benefit every time you drink the water.”
In its Aug. 12 issue, the Kennebunk Post, a sister publication of the Courier, reported that one primary concern of fluoridation opponents is that fluoridated water causes bone weakness. Tourigny doubts that those concerns are well-supported by research.
“There hasn’t been any studies, or at least no peerreviewed studies, no confirmed studies, nothing reputable,” Tourigny said.
Flouride is naturally present in the water supplies in the area. The concern, according to Jan Hanson, who leads the Campaign to Reconsider Water Flouridation and who was interviewed by the Post, is that the distinct chemical form of the fluoride before it is added makes a difference in how it affects the body.
Tourigny was reluctant to speak about more than he knew with regard to the chemistry, but he said he’s sure that, once the fluoride is in the drinking water, it is indistinguishable from natural fluoride.
“The chemists will tell you that they don’t have an argument there,” Tourigny said. “Once it’s in the water, and the reaction happens, then it’s fluoride.”
Opponents of fluoridation also emphasize the poisonous quality of fluoride. Former Biddeford City Councilor Richard Rhames, of Biddeford, points out that toothpaste tubes warn against swallowing toothpaste.
Tourigny agrees that fluoride can be poisonous, but emphasizes that that depends on the dosage or concentration.
“Toothpaste is a higher concentration of fluoride,” Tourigny said. “You know, you can take two Advil, but don’t take a hundred Advil. It’s that same type of thing.”
“No one would say ‘why are they selling Advil?’” added Tourigny.
When Tourigny returned to Biddeford to start practicing dentistry in 1988, he said, it had been three years since Biddeford voted to begin fluoridation.
“In 1985 the people voted to put fluoride in the water. They’d been seeing the benefit of that,” Tourigny said.
Having directly seen the benefits of fluoride to patients is why he and other dentists get so passionate about continuing fluoridation, he said.
Healthy Teeth, Healthy Smiles will host a forum, featuring medical and scientific professionals, on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at Kennebunk Town Hall, to discuss the referendum.