Roseville resident Lynda Fioravanti bought her son a pricey Christmas gift that most teenage boys would likely consider boring.
“My son said, ‘The only thing I want is a fluoride filter,’” Fioravanti said.
Her son Gabe, now 15, had pitted teeth — or dental fluorosis — a condition caused by excessive fluoride exposure that leaves white markings on the enamel.
Fioravanti recently tried to halt Roseville City Council from renewing a $140,000 annual contract to add hydrofluoric acid to the public water supply. She wasn’t successful. The item passed unanimously at the Sept. 5 meeting, with Councilman John Allard and Vice Mayor Susan Rohan absent.
But the Fioravantis and others are wondering: Why add fluoride to water? The chemical is also found in toothpaste, mouthwash, supplements and some beverages and food.
“The smaller issue is the pitted teeth and the bigger is the other health issues,” said 19-year-old Christian Fioravanti, who considers fluoride to be “poison.”
The Fioravanti family no longer drinks water straight from the tap, in part because of concerns over health effects and due to the fact they’re Christian Scientists. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies fluoride as a drug, and the family feels by drinking the water they are being medicated against their will.
Roseville Councilman Dr. Tim Herman, a dentist and managing partner of A+ Personalized Dental Care, calls much of the research supporting the concerns of anti-fluoride advocates “junk science.”
“Every major public health organization in the United States recommends fluoridated water,” Herman said during the meeting.
Resident can’t drink the water
Roseville owns and operates its own municipal water utility, providing drinking water to residents and businesses. The water comes from the Sierra Nevada snowmelt and is sourced through contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Placer County Water Agency. In the 1950s, Roseville and many other municipalities began adding fluoride to their water.
In California, each public water system with at least 10,000 service connections and a natural level of fluorides less than the minimum established in the regulations is required to fluoridate “to promote the public health of Californians of all ages through the protection and maintenance of dental health, a paramount issue of statewide concern.” Water providers that fail to do so are subject to a fine.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently lowered its acceptable range recommendation of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water to not exceed 0.7 milligrams.
During the Sept. 5 council meeting, Roseville resident Nancy Larned spoke out against fluoridation. She has hypothyroidism and said doctors told her to avoid fluoridated water because the chemical interferes with her thyroid function.
“I’m a senior citizen, I’m on Social Security and I’m spending $30, $40, $50 a month to buy bottled water, because I can’t drink Roseville city water,” she said.
Dr. Angelica Ha, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center, told the Press Tribune that while multiple sources for fluoride exist, most require a conscious decision by people to use — and pay for — them. Fluoridated water ensures low-income people also have access to the chemical shown to prevent tooth decay.
“The (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) considers water fluoridation one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century,” Ha said.
An estimated 196 million Americans drink fluoridated water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Herman said he’s a “firm and 100 percent supporter of fluoridation,” adding that every $1 spent on fluoridation saves $38 in dental costs.
Herman rarely sees fluorosis, telling the Press Tribune he knows of one patient out of the more than 10,000 served by his practice that is from Oklahoma — a place with high levels of naturally occurring fluoride — and has severe fluorosis.
“We see nothing like that in California,” he said.
Experts: benefits outweigh risks
In 1997, the FDA began requiring that toothpastes include a warning to keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age, and if the user accidentally swallows more than used for brushing to seek medical help or contact a Poison Control Center immediately.
Children 8 and younger are most likely to be affected by excessive exposure because the chemical impacts teeth in formative phases. The main sources of fluoride intake for a child are from swallowing toothpaste and water.
Fluoride accumulates in the bones and teeth. According to the EPA, “Adults exposed to excessive consumption of fluoride over a lifetime may have increased likelihood of bone fractures, and may result in effects on bone leading to pain and tenderness.”
In July, researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and China Medical University released a study suggesting fluoride may adversely affect cognitive development in children. They found lower IQ scores among kids in high-fluoride areas. The authors say more research is warranted.
Many medical experts, such as Ha and Herman, argue that too much of anything poses a problem and fluoride’s benefits in low dosages outweigh the risks.
More than 150 public water systems in California don’t fluoridate, including the city of Folsom, Citrus Heights Water District, city of Lincoln, Sacramento Suburban Water District and city of Davis. San Juan Water District, which serves Granite Bay, also does not fluoridate.
During the Sept. 5 council meeting, Mayor Pauline Roccucci said the Placer County Water Agency recently decided to remain fluoride-free, noting how “not everybody wants chemicals in their water.”