The safety and benefits of fluoride are well-documented, according to public health officials.
Then why do some opponents argue the process of adding fluoride to public drinking water should be stopped?
Lynn Short, director of Victoria Public Works, said the city started its fluoride program in 1985, and its levels are monitored by the Texas Department of State Health Services with samples sent out twice a month.
The fluoridation program is funded entirely by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant.
“We monitor our water very carefully here,” he said.
Residents pay for the treatments in their city water bills. Public Works budgets $14,000 a year for fluoride treatments, but in some years, the cost is much less, Short said.
For 70 years, the CDC reports, Americans have benefited from drinking water with fluoride added.
However, a few recent studies have pointed to potential health risks for some people, and they raised questions about the quality of research cited by the CDC.
Pro: Long history shows fluoride benefits in water
The safety and benefits of adding fluoride to drinking water are as clear as a mountain stream, supporters say.
Support comes from the American Dental Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. Public Health Service and the World Health Organization.
Drinking fluoridated water keeps teeth strong and has reduced tooth decay by 25 percent in children and adults, according to the CDC.
Victoria resident John Schlembach said he’s looked into this issue and has to agree with public health officials.
“There is no way to reasonably oppose the use of fluoride in water,” he said.
The CDC named community water fluoridation as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
In 1931, dental surgeon and epidemiologist H. Trendley Dean, the first director of the U.S. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, set out to study the harm too much fluoride could do. After much investigation, his work demonstrated the good that a little fluoride could do.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy said in the late 1950s, about half of Americans older than 65 years old had lost all their natural teeth, which many replaced with dentures.
This year, Murthy concluded in a public health report that based on the findings of a national panel’s five-year study, the original 1962 recommendation on fluoridation needed to be updated.
This is because Americans have access to more sources of fluoride, such as toothpaste and mouth rinses, than when water fluoridation was first introduced.
The Public Health Service now recommendscommunity water systems use a single concentration of 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water to maintain cavity prevention benefits and reduce the risk of dental fluorosis.
This revises the previously recommended range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams.
“Community water fluoridation remains an effective public health strategy for delivering fluoride to prevent tooth decay and is the most feasible and cost-effective strategy for reaching entire communities,” he wrote.
Nearly all water contains some fluoride, but usually not enough to help prevent tooth decay or cavities.
But even with higher levels of fluoride, the National Research Council could not find substantial evidence to support claims of unwanted health effects other than severe dental fluorosis.
The council also noted the prevalence of severe dental fluorosis is almost zero at fluoride concentrations of less than 2 milligrams of fluoride per liter.
Dr. Mac Lee, a dentist who practices in Edna and a Victoria Advocate columnist, said healthy people from West Texas have been drinking natural yet heavily fluoridated water all their lives.
Lee said the issue can be confusing because there are so many variables.
“Many now just drink bottled water, so it doesn’t make any difference what a town does,” Lee said. “It’s like anything else. People need to educate themselves as to what they are putting in their body.”
Con: Fluoridation takes away public’s choice
The opposition of adding fluoride to public drinking water seems to be gaining traction, and this summer the debate made it to the state’s capitol.
Austin council member Don Zimmerman proposed Austin should end fluoridation by December.
Zimmerman argued it would save Austin money to discontinue the fluoridation program. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the city budgeted almost $340,000 to fluoridate water in 2014.
Zimmerman asked to bring the issue before the entire council for consideration Aug. 19 but had no support from the Public Utilities Committee and Health and Human Services Committee, so the proposal died.
San Marcos City Council has been caught up in its own battle against activist group Fluoride-Free San Marcos, which submitted a petition in April to call for voters to decide for themselves.
San Marcos residents will vote on Proposition 1 in November’s election. If passed, the proposition would prohibit city staff from adding certain fluoride derivatives to the municipal water supply.
Teek Miller, a retired science and math teacher in Victoria, recently wrote a letter to the editor urging residents to research the effects of fluoride and bring the issue to the Victoria City Council.
Miller said while she believes brushing teeth with fluoride is beneficial, swallowing the chemical is not.
Miller contends fluoride damages bones and the brain, making both weaker.
There has been debate about whether the addition of fluoride to drinking water could be harmful to a person’s health since 1945, when Grand Rapids, Mich., became the first community to add fluoride to a public water supply.
Public health officials largely considered the program a huge success, and other water systems across the country started their own programs.
Fluoride is considered a poison in large doses, but toxic levels cannot be achieved by drinking fluoridated water, according to the Grand Rapids website.
An article published in Newsweek on June 29 reported a growing number of studies have suggested the chemical may present a number of health risks – for example, interfering with the endocrine system and increasing the risk of impaired brain function.
The magazine mentions two studies that have linked fluoridation to ADHD and underactive thyroid.
Others argue against water fluoridation on ethical grounds.
Henry Rodriguez, representative of the League of United Latin American Citizens, testified before the Austin committees earlier this month opposing water fluoridation.
Rodriguez reportedly said it is a violation of his individual rights by the government because the process forces people to consume a substance they may not know is present or that they would rather avoid.