Fluoride Action Network

Albany threatened again with fluoridation plan

Source: Albany Times Union | September 6th, 2005 | By JENNIFER GISH
Location: United States, New York

Dr. Joseph Hart’s bookshelf has a section dedicated to fluoride.

Since dental school in the late 1960s, the town of Bethlehem dentist has saved everything from comic strips on fluoridation to the letters he’s sent off to officials in Albany and his own town asking them to please add fluoride to the public water supply.

“It’s a health issue that I feel strongly about,” Hart said. “And it’s a health issue that doesn’t get the attention it should because we’re not talking about a life-and-death disease.”

What we’re talking about is tooth decay.

He said he sees it all too often in the mouths of kids who live where fluoride isn’t added to the drinking water.

And he finds it hard to believe that as the American Dental Association celebrates the 60th anniversary of water fluoridation — which started in Grand Rapids, Mich., and was adopted shortly after in Newburgh — that there are still communities that refuse to do it.

Fluoride comes from the element fluorine, which is found in the Earth’s crust. Dentists treasure it for preventing tooth decay because it strengthens teeth, particularly as children grow.

Adding fluoride to the water is critical, they say, in low-income areas where children don’t have access to dental care or can’t afford fluoride tablets. The Chicago-based ADA says fluoride-enriched water reduces tooth decay by 20 percent to 40 percent.

More than two-thirds of the U.S. population receives fluoridated water, according to the association.

But there are communities, such as Albany, where fluoride has found foes.

The last big attempt to add fluoride to Albany’s water came in 1994 with a yearlong debate.

Seventy-three percent of public water providers in New York add fluoride to the supply, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Albany is the largest city in the state that doesn’t.

Hart spoke during a public hearing on the issue, as did Albany resident Chris Mercogliano.

“It just wasn’t necessary to put fluoride in the water,” said Mercogliano, an educator who spoke out with members of Citizens for Clean Water against fluoridation. “There were other safer ways to protect children’s teeth.”

He said too many questions have been raised about the safety of fluoride, and people should not have the substance forced upon them through the municipal water supply.

Recently, a researcher at Harvard University’s School of Dental Medicine was criticized for downplaying information on the possible link between fluoride and a rare bone cancer in boys.

Although Hart said he’s for further exploration of the theory, one small study on a very rare bone cancer isn’t reason enough to forget the health benefits of fluoride.

And many of the other anti-fluoride arguments are unscientific, Hart said. Over the years, fluoride’s been blamed for ailments from AIDS to Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s very difficult for me to understand someone who can stand there and say, ‘You’ve been doing this for 60 years, but it’s harmful,’ he said.

So when children first hop into his dentist’s chair, Hart, like many dentists, finds out where they live and then prescribes fluoride tablets.

We all get fluoride in little doses, he said, because foods processed in places with fluoridated water contain it. It’s also, of course, in products such as toothpaste and some mouthwashes.

But the most beneficial way to get fluoride is in constant, small amounts through water.

Mercogliano disagrees. If parents want their kids to have fluoride, he said, they can get fluoride tablets from the dentist.

Mercogliano said fluoridating water to improve the dental health of low-income families is the wrong way to go about solving the problem. Instead, he said, Albany should concentrate on how to get those families better access to health care.

But Hart said treating the water with fluoride is a common-sense answer to reducing tooth decay and he doesn’t plan on letting the cause go.

He’s got a bookshelf full of research ready for the fight.

“I’ve sort of made it an issue in my life,” he said.