OKLAHOMA CITY – Most Oklahoma municipalities continue to inject fluoride into public drinking water despite global reports that the mineral can lead to brain damage and a lower IQ in children.
Some cities across the nation have engaged in controversial debates over fluoride and whether its benefits outweigh the risks. In other parts of the world, countries have eliminated fluoride from public drinking water systems because of reports and studies that show it can be harmful to adults and children.
Debbie Ragan, spokesman for the Oklahoma City water department, said fluoride is a part of the city’s drinking water based on recommendations from the American Dental Association and government agencies.
“What’s happening is we use it less and less because of all the fluoride that’s in toothpaste and mouthwash,” she said. “We do it in accordance with the (Oklahoma) Department of Environmental Quality, the EPA and the dental association.
Oklahoma City lowered its fluoride level recently from .8-1.2 parts per million to .7 ppm based on recommendations from the Oklahoma Health and Human Services agency.
However, activists like Toni Samanie believe fluoride is a drug, not a mineral.
“They’re dosing everyone who drinks tap water without their consent. Doctors don’t do that with other drugs they prescribe. You have to get the patient’s consent. This is nonconsensual. If people want fluoride, go to the doctor and get a prescription, but stop putting drugs in my drinking water,” she said. “People should want to minimize the toxicity that goes into you’re their body. I’m against fluoride in public drinking water at any level.”
Samanie also contends the money spent to buy the fluoride could be used on projects that benefit the public at large.
Oklahoma City spends $22,000 a month or $264,000 a year to purchase fluoride from its vendor Mosaic, Ragan said.
“In the grand scheme of things, people will say it’s not a lot of money but it can be used to fund a lot of good things,” Samanie said.
Samanie isn’t alone with her objections to fluoride in drinking water.
In 2013, a Harvard University meta-analysis funded by the National Institutes of Health discovered that children who live in areas with highly fluoridated water have significantly lower IQ scores than those who live in low fluoride areas.
Findings from the meta-analyses of 27 studies published over 22 years suggest an “inverse association” between high fluoride exposure and children’s intelligence.
The report states, “The results suggest that fluoride may be a developmental neurotoxicant that affects brain development at exposures much below those that can cause toxicity in adults.”
Organizers of the Fluoride Action Network contend fluoride injected into water supplies cannot be controlled since the dose each individual receives is different based on the amount of water consumed. In addition, fluoride goes to everyone regardless of age, health or vulnerability.
The network also asserts fluoride is not an essential nutrient, claiming “not a single biological process has been shown to require fluoride.” On the contrary, there is extensive evidence that fluoride can interfere with many important biological functions, such as the interference with growth factors, hormones and neurotransmitters.
Yet, the American Dental Association and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy support the use of fluoridation and the reported benefits it offers toward good oral health.
In a video posted to the Office of the Surgeon General’s YouTube channel, Murthy credited the use of fluoride with contributing to dramatic declines in the prevalence and severity of tooth decay. He also praised community leaders for their efforts in fighting to make water fluoridation a reality in communities across the nation.
“Our progress on this issue over the past 70 years has been undeniable,” Murthy said in the video. “But we still have work to do. Because we know that so much of our health is determined by zip code rather than genetic code. That’s why creating a culture of disease prevention through community efforts — and ensuring health equity for all — is one of my highest priorities. Community water fluoridation helps us meet these goals; as it is one of the most cost-effective, equitable and safe measures communities can take to prevent tooth decay and improve oral health.”
Grand Rapids, Michigan, became a pioneer in public health when it became the first city in the world to fluoridate its drinking water on Jan. 25, 1945. Today, nearly 75 percent of the U.S. population served by public water utilities — more than 210 million people — receives the benefits of optimally fluoridated water, the American Dental Association claims. Other studies show that community water fluoridation prevents at least 25 percent of tooth decay in children and adults, even with the widespread availability of fluoride from other sources, such as fluoride toothpaste, according to information from the ADA website.
However, some Oklahoma cities such as Bethany, Jones, Luther, Choctaw, Harrah and Nichols Hills do not place fluoride in their drinking water, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The latest CDC figures show 70 percent of Oklahomans receive fluoridated water.
Bethany City Manager John Shugart said he can’t remember the last time fluoride was injected into the city’s drinking water.
“I’ve been here 26 years and it’s never happened. There’s naturally occurring fluoride that gets in the system but we don’t put any in on our own,” he said.
Shugart said he’s not sure fluoride is needed in public drinking water.
“There’s some elderly residents who have lived here all their life and their teeth are just as good as mine,” he said with a chuckle.
Choctaw City Manager Roger Nelson said residents have never requested fluoride for their drinking water.
“I’ve been city management since the late 1980s and I’ve never had that call,” he said. “Actually, this is the first conversation I’ve had about fluoride in the water.”
Like Bethany, Choctaw residents receive their drinking water from wells that provide a trace of fluoride.
Meanwhile, Harrah City Manager Earl Burson recalled one new resident asked if the city injected fluoride into its drinking water. Burson told her the city did not use fluoride and the woman replied, “Good.”
Burson has been Harrah’s city manager for 10 years and the issue of fluoride has never been raised at the city council level.