The dental community for decades has told Americans that fluoride is key to keeping children’s choppers in top shape.
But in a handful of Ohio communities, residents tapped into municipal sources are swallowing fluoride-free water.
“If you come to Springfield and you talk to most of our residents, they’ll say, ‘What, we don’t have fluoride in our water? What are you talking about?’ ” said Charles Patterson, Clark County health commissioner.
Patterson is among the vocal supporters of a pending state bill designed to make sure the road is clear for communities to add the decay-fighting compound.
In 1969, Ohio passed a law requiring fluoridation. But the state gave cities a 120-day window to opt out.
Several — including Delaware, Lancaster, Mansfield and Springfield — took state leaders up on that offer.
Since then, some communities that originally opted out have decided to add fluoride. For example, Delaware began fluoridating in March. Others, under the impression that state law allowed only for opting out, not opting back in, have held off on fluoridating or have called for vote to see whether residents would like fluoride-enhanced water. Currently, 24 cities that voted against fluoride remain without it.
“Look, there’s a gray area; we don’t know for sure whether it’s legal or not,” Patterson said. “What we’re asking the legislature to do . . . is give the local communities the right to reconsider fluoridating the water.”
State Rep. Kerry Metzger, R-New Philadelphia, is shepherding the proposal through the General Assembly. The House committee considering the measure could vote on it as soon as this week.
Metzger, a dentist, wouldn’t mind if the bill nudges a few more cities into adding fluoride, but he said the real goal is to make sure people know they have the option.
“We have over 30 years of proof that it does have the benefits and doesn’t have the negative health concerns that some people thought (it did) back 30 years ago,” Metzger said.
The bill would allow for either a council or public vote to approve fluoridation.
Communities such as Delaware, which approved fluoride without the change in state law, should not face any repercussions, he said.
“There’s nothing that says they couldn’t do what they did, but what we’re trying to do is provide clarification that what they did was fine,” Metzger said.
In Lancaster, efforts to add fluoride have been met with resistance, said Dr. James McCray, a dentist in the Fairfield County city.
“There is someone here who goes on the warpath whenever it is brought up,” he said.
The opponents in Lancaster are not alone. Last week, members of an anti-fluoride group in Wooster testified against the legislation. In that city, voters have turned down fluoridation four times, most recently last year.
Fluoride opponents contend that the additive is poisonous, contributing to everything from cancer to lowered IQ in children.
Those opposing the Ohio proposal also find fault with allowing council members to approve the issue without a public vote.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends fluoridation, citing statistics showing that fluoride in water can decrease cavities by between 17 percent and 40 percent.
About 60 percent of people served by community water systems have adequately fluoridated water, according to the CDC.
McCray, like many dentists in nonfluoridated communities, offers his young patients chewable, once-a-day fluoride supplements.
Although Springfield dentists also can offer supplements and a health-department program provides fluoride treatments at a handful of local schools, Patterson is convinced those efforts are not sufficient.
“We don’t have enough dentists in the area to take care of the number of people we have in Springfield,” he said. “We’re kind of fighting a losing battle.”