A city commissioner and a group of TC residents seek to halt the fluoridation of local water.
The dispute over fluoride in drinking water is enough to give someone a toothache — opponents point to studies that have shown fluoride might cause brain damage or skeletal disease; proponents argue that what’s added to water is minuscule compared to the doses discussed in those studies, and that the use of fluoride improves oral health.
Traverse City first approved adding fluoride to water in 1951, six years after Grand Rapids became the first place in the world to fluoridate its drinking water.
Some TC residents question the benefits and raise concerns about possible ill effects. For several years, Commissioner Jim Carruthers has questioned fluoridation each time the line item — $20,000 to $30,000 per year – had to be approved by the commission.
“It usually passes because everybody looks at me cross-eyed and moves on,” Carruthers says. “My point is it should be a choice: why should we be drinking a poison?”
Carruthers questions the health benefits and believes the city could save money by eliminating fluoride. “I have a mouthful of cavities and I grew up with fluoride,” he tells The Ticker.
Dr. David Koss, a pediatric dentist at the Michigan Community Dental Clinic in TC, says the benefits of fluoride and its safety are unquestionable.
“I think it’s the greatest public health initiative that’s ever been devised,” Koss says. “It takes no effort by anybody.” “It has been proven safe by numerous studies over and over again and it’s something that is a very easy thing to do and is very cost effective,” Koss adds.
Indeed, the list of organizations that support fluoridation reads like a who’s who of medicine – it includes the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, opponents worry about the unknowns. It is recommended, for instance, that non-fluoridated bottled water be used when mixing baby formula because studies have shown fluoride is harmful to infants.
Carruthers has supporters, and they’ve started a Facebook group.
Ben Hansen is active in the group and says, “I’ve just always been such a believer in pure, clean water. I think we’re long overdue for a serious reconsideration and review of this question.”
Commissioner Gary Howe says he is on the fence but is leaning against fluoridation on fiscal grounds.
“I have concerns about the real value of the program in a day and age when fluoride is in almost ever dental care product on the shelf,” he says. “Back in 1951 when this program was started, we were still twenty years away from having fluoride in toothpaste, or so I’m told. Now, we actually need to pay extra to have fluoride-free toothpaste.”
The fluoride question is expected to be taken up by commissioners at their June 16 meeting.