SOUTHINGTON — When Republican state Sen. Joe Markley proposed a bill on Jan. 11 to eliminate the state mandate of adding fluoride to the public water supply, he was bombarded by negative reactions.
The basic response to S.B. 131 was “How can you be against good teeth?” Markley said.
“It’s a more complicated question than that,” said Markley, who represents the 16th District, which covers Southington and Wolcott and parts of Cheshire and Waterbury. His proposal to remove the mandate is more about his philosophical position against state mandates than it is about fluoride.
“I’m against mandating things that can be done by a community itself,” Markley said.
Markley said he’s looking more deeply into the issue because of the negative response. He said he feels mandating that fluoride be put into drinking water is an ethical issue. His thinks communities should regulate the mineral level on their own.
The statewide mandate in Connecticut became law in 1965. It requires communities with populations of 20,000 or more and natural fluoride content of less than 0.8 milligrams per liter to fluoridate the water supply. Levels must be maintained between 0.8 and 1.2 milligrams per liter.
Southington, Cheshire, Meriden and Wallingford are among 110 Connecticut municipalities that fluoridate their water.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral in all water, but sometimes at levels too low to prevent tooth decay, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The mineral works by rebuilding protective enamel on teeth that prevents tooth decay. The CDC considers fluoride a safe and acceptable means to prevent tooth decay, and places community water fluoridation among the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Drinking fluoride every day through a public water supply “has become part of the culture,” Markley said. But if the mandate were being introduced today, he said he doesn’t think people would support it.
“To put anything in our water supply for medical purposes and have it ingested at different quantities,” Markley said, is something “you just wouldn’t do.”
Carolyn Malon, president of the Connecticut State Dental Association, which is headquartered in Southington, said she spoke with Markley about his position on fluoride last week. She told Markley that she understands his philosophical opposition to state mandates, but that the benefit of fluoride “outweighs the philosophical issue.”
“It has been an incredible public health success,” Malon said.
She has seen the difference firsthand. Years ago, while working at a dental practice in Waterbury, Malon said, she could tell children from Naugatuck from Waterbury children just by looking at tooth quality. Fluoridation isn’t mandated in Naugatuck, because of its population, while it is mandated in Waterbury. Malon said children from Waterbury had much healthier teeth.
“I could tell who came from where,” she said.
According to the state Department of Public Health, “thousands of research studies have shown that water fluoridation is safe, effective and the best way to improve oral health in a community.”
The American Dental Association is also supportive of water fluoridation. A statement on the association’s website says it “continues to endorse fluoridation of community water supplies as safe and effective for preventing tooth decay.
“This support has been the Association’s position since the policy was first adopted in 1950,” the statement said. “The ADA’s policies regarding community water fluoridation are based on the overwhelming weight of peer-reviewed, credible scientific evidence.”
Markley said that while he isn’t a scientist or dentist, he’s found many studies that have pointed to the excessive and long-term ingestion of fluoride as a source of bone brittleness.
The CDC acknowledges excessive amounts of fluoride can adversely affect people, especially children 8 and under who “have an increased chance of developing pits in the tooth enamel” when large amounts of fluoride are ingested, according to its website. The overexposure often comes from the accidental ingestion of fluoride enriched toothpaste. The CDC also says the “excessive consumption of fluoride over a lifetime may increase the likelihood of bone fractures” or a painful bone condition called skeletal fluorosis.
An exposure analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency suggests adults who live in areas with high natural fluoride levels or who favor beverages, such as tea, that are high in fluoride, are at the greatest risk of developing health issues related to fluoride.
Malon said mandating fluoride in the public water supply is necessary because it benefits the poor and those who wouldn’t be able to care for their teeth otherwise.
“You take fluoride out of the water in Hartford, and you’re going to be stuck with a lot of kids who need dental care,” she said. “And who is going to pay for it?”
Those who don’t want fluoride in their water can buy special water filtration systems, she said.
Southington Town Councilor Al Natelli, a dentist, agreed with Malon that the mineral is needed to keep health care costs in the state reasonable. He said that if the mandate ended and fluoride wasn’t added to water, healthcare costs would skyrocket for the next generation.
While Natelli said the adage “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” applies, “the reality is, this had been going on for 50-plus years and it’s a good thing.”
Markley said it’s unlikely the Joint Committee on Public Health will consider the proposed bill. He doesn’t see the mandate being changed because “there’s no real constituency organized in any way against it.”