Health officials hail the practice of adding fluoride to our drinking water as one of the 20th century’s top health achievements.
And yet, hundreds of thousands of South Floridians don’t reap the benefits, because some utilities don’t boost the presence of the cavity-fighting mineral in their water.
The battle over fluoridation has reignited in Palm Beach County after one of the cities that normally adds fluoride stopped doing so.
Some dentists are urging Boynton Beach to hurry up in resuming fluoride treatments. Boynton Utilities halted the practice in early 2015 to make way for a $30 million water-plant upgrade. And the city says it won’t resume fluoride use until as early as next year, once all construction is complete.
The sooner the better, said Frank Carberry, a Highland Beach dentist whose patients include some Boynton residents. “Fluoride is the key” to curbing tooth decay, he said. “It’s one of the basic elements of the body’s defense system against cavities.”
Public health officials say the evidence is solid that fluoridated drinking water helps protect teeth, and most South Florida cities add the compound.
People have debated fluoride for decades. Opponents of fluoridation have cited concerns over government’s involvement in their drinking water or worries that too much of the mineral could lead to health problems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends fluoride as a preventative measure, and the Florida Department of Health says more that three-quarters of Floridians served by community water systems receive fluoridated water.
According to the Florida Department of Health, almost everyone in Broward County gets fluoridated water. Delray Beach has added fluoride to its water since the City Commission decided on it back in the 1990s.
The town of Wellington is the most recent municipality to resume fluoridating its water, reintroducing it to the water system in May after going three years without it. Council members discussed for hours whether the town should fluoridate before approving it.
But some cities in Palm Beach County never got on board with fluoridation, including Boca Raton, which serves 130,000 customers; Lake Worth, which serves about 40,000; and the town of Lantana, serving about 9,400.
“We’re just the water provider, so we’re responsible for providing good, clean water,” said Chris Helfrich, Boca’s utility director. “Twenty-five years ago, the City Council made a policy decision not to add fluoride to the water, and we’ve kept with the policy ever since.”
Just about all of the state’s water contains some fluoride, and the majority of South Florida’s cities boost the natural level of fluoride in compliance with state guidelines. The recommended fluoride level for fighting cavities is 0.7 parts per million. Boynton’s natural fluoride levels vary between 0.2 and 0.4 parts per million.
Boynton’s delay in resuming fluoridation may only up the chances of tooth decay among its 130,000 water customers, dentists say. The city’s utility serves Boynton, Ocean Ridge, Briny Breezes and parts of Hypoluxo and Lantana.
Carberry said he thinks some of his patients from Highland Beach, whose water isn’t fluoridated, are visibly worse off.
Boynton recently completed a $30 million water plant upgrade, resulting in purer, better-quality water, city officials said. The fluoride originally was meant to be absent for only 16 months but delays grew from additional construction projects.
Boynton’s machine that provides fluoride can’t be installed until all construction is complete. That wouldn’t happen until sometime in 2018, said Colin Groff, assistant city manager and former utilities director.
Fluoride in the drinking water has been a concern for customers “on both sides of the issue,” Groff said. Boynton staff has received more calls from customers who don’t want fluoride added to the water than from those who do, he said.
Still, “the city has always been committed to the addition of fluoride to drinking water and has been not only a strong advocate, but a leader among utilities in Florida on supplementing natural fluoride levels in drinking water,” he said.
Many things affect your overall dental health, including whether you use toothpaste with fluoride, whether you brush frequently or how often you go to the dentist, Carberry said. But the best method of delivering fluoride is through water, he said.
“There really is no substitute for it being in the water supply,” Carberry said.
Susan Oyer, a teacher at Boca Raton Middle School and a Boynton resident, said she would prefer to have fluoridated water. “I don’t like getting cavities, and when I drink water, I want it to count,” she said.
She said she remembers seeing kids at school with “mouths full of cavities,” and that doing something as simple as drinking water to prevent tooth decay — no matter a child’s background or home environment — is a good solution.
Johnny Johnson, a former pediatric dentist and president of the nonprofit American Fluoridation Society, said part of the process is getting the City Council involved.
Johnson helped lead the effort to reintroduce fluoride to Pinellas County water in 2011 and 2012. Johnson, based in Pinellas County, contacted Boynton in recent weeks to urge the city to reintroduce fluoride soon.
“You drink the water, it does the job,” he said. “This is a nonpartisan health issue. It’s for the health of the public.”
*Original article online at http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/palm-beach/fl-pn-south-florida-fluoride-20170815-story.html