A group of dentists, along with public health, pediatric and dental experts from Birmingham and Montgomery, met with members of the water board Tuesday to petition that fluoride not be removed from the city’s water.
Doug Clement, Russellville Water Board manager, recommended in September that the board remove fluoride, a chemical added to drinking water in 87 percent of Alabama’s municipalities to strengthen teeth and reduce tooth decay.
Steven Hammack, a local dentist, presented the board with a petition given to the city council earlier in the month and signed by four other dentists.
“It’s a moral thing,” said Alan Sherrill, one of the local dentists on the petition. “We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe so much in this.”
The board has not put forth a time line to make a decision about Clement’s recommendation to remove fluoride from the city’s water. The five-member board will next meet at 5 p.m. Jan. 5.
Clement found research that suggests ingesting fluoride can cause harm, including fluoride buildup on teeth, bone defects and neurological disorders.
“When you throw in fluoride, we cease to be a water regulator and we become a prescriber,” Clement said.
In fact, a growing movement, under the umbrella group Fluoride Action Network, cites that fluoride is toxic and recommends its removal from water. The group cites analyses of 23 studies in 2008 that connected fluoride with lowered IQ scores in children. Many fluoride opponents, dentists included, say that fluoridated water has been accepted by public health officials but not properly tested, while many medical and dental experts say that fluoridated water is the best method to prevent tooth decay.
Worldwide, only 5.7 percent of all water systems receive fluoride, a figure cited several times by officials at the meeting.
John Thornton, professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told the group that throughout his 32-year career he has screened 30,000 to 40,000 children in rural areas and that he has seen firsthand how the lack of fluoride affects communities.
Those affected are predominantly poor rural children who may not have access to any dental care, Thornton said.
“Fluoride is essential to good oral health,” Thornton said.
Many opponents argue that topical application of fluoride helps teeth, but when consumed, the chemical, originally a byproduct from fertilizer production, can become a poison.
Karen Landers, a pediatrician and the area health officer who covers Franklin County, said her practice focuses on low-income and minority children.
“The fluoride may be the only thing they have,” in terms of dental care, Landers said.
She argued that its addition to the water supply is one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent dental problems in children.
Opal Ross, a resident active in local politics, said she purchases water to avoid fluoride, and that of her four children, the two who were raised without fluoride have no cavities whereas the two raised with fluoridated water have bad teeth.
“Good teeth come from the kitchen,” Ross said, a reference connecting good eating habits to good teeth.
Sherry Goode, acting director of the oral health branch of the Alabama Department of Public Health, gave participants a folder with information about the benefits of fluoride.
She said that in Hale County, one of three counties in Alabama that does not fluoridate its water, 60 to 70 percent of children had abscesses and “blown-out teeth.”
Water board chairman Joe Graham said the board would also seek input from the public before a decision is made.
Clements said that if fluoride were so important, it would be mandated for municipal water.
“To mandate would be a huge monumental task,” Goode said. “We feel like it should be the local governmental agencies who decide.”