Standing before Pelham’s City Council for its recent Youth Government
Day, Kamryn Sherman asked the city to consider putting fluoride in
its water system.
The issue was simple for the fifth-grader from Valley Intermediate
School: Fluoride helps your teeth.
But for some grown-ups in Shelby County, placing anything in the
water is cause for concern.
Although 82 percent of Alabama residents with public water drink from
fluoridated systems, several municipalities in Shelby County have
resisted recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention and the World Health Organization to add fluoride to their
Pelham’s water system is one of eight in Shelby County that don’t add
fluoride to their water. It’s the largest city in the county without
“You get 100 reports from so-called experts. Fifty will say you
should have fluoride and 50 will say you shouldn’t,” said Pelham
Mayor Bobby Hayes. “Every time somebody brings it up, we look at it
Alabama’s top dental official strongly disagrees that 50 percent of
expert reports are against putting fluoride in public water systems.
“There is a lot of literature out there against fluoridated systems,”
said Dr. Stuart A. Lockwood, Alabama’s dental director. “But there is
not credible evidence to support their views. Look at the government
studies. They have been done over and over again. Our top health
organizations support fluoridation.”
Shelby County areas with fluoridated water are Alabaster, Helena,
Hoover, Montevallo and unincorporated north Shelby County. All of
Jefferson County’s 13 municipal water systems have fluoridated water.
While the fluoride debate has swept through the country over the past
50 years, some of Alabama’s growing counties are just now tackling
the issue. Rural areas are becoming more populated, bringing public
water to some homes for the first time, Lockwood said.
“Fifty of our finest organizations, all known for top-notch science,
maintain that, when properly administered at the appropriate
concentration, there is 30 to 40 percent fewer cavities in people who
drink water with community fluoridation,” Lockwood said.
But therein lies the problem, said Ken Holler, Pelham’s director of
“How much water do you have to drink a day to make it worthwhile?” he
asked. “Fifty years ago when they started doing this, you did not
have other means of getting fluoride. Today, you have toothpaste,
vitamins, drops – multiple ways. If it is in your water, and let’s
say they are getting the maximum amount they need for that to work,
and then you get it in other ways, when does it become harmful?”
At one point, Pelham tried putting fluoride in the system, but some
older equipment was unable to properly administer it.
Although it would be expensive to replace the equipment that can’t
handle the fluoride, money is not the issue, Holler said.
“You have a lot of people that do not want it. So what do you do?” he
asked. “Force it on the ones who do not want it, when the people can
get it from places other than the water?”
The issue hit Columbiana last year, when efforts there failed to
persuade a majority of water customers to support fluoridation. The
water system put the issue to a vote, and heavy opposition from its
customers outside the city overwhelmed the “yes” votes from
Hayes said he would consider fluoridation again if most of Pelham’s
residents wanted it. “We will keep studying it,” he said.
Lockwood said he hopes credible research persuades officials to change.
“There is all kinds of erroneous information out there. Some people
say it is a government plot, mass medication or that it takes away
freedom. These views are not based on science,” he said.
“Fluoridation has been here since 1945. Today, 175 million people in
this country drink from fluoridated systems, and there just hasn’t
been one credible study to show ill effects.”