BROOKSVILLE – An apparent consensus of the city council to stop putting fluoride in the city’s water supply is something to smile about or not, depending on whom you ask.
During a budget workshop Tuesday, Councilmember Lara Bradburn recommended the city stop adding the mineral to the water supply to save money.
New research shows it’s unnecessary to protect the teeth of city residents, Bradburn said, so it’s an easy way to save money. The city spends about $7,000 annually to put fluoride in the water, a practice started here in the mid-1980s.
“Even the least expensive toothpaste on the market has fluoride, and the (American Dental Association) says that’s enough,” Bradburn said.
Right after Bradburn’s suggestion, Vice-mayor Frankie Burnett and Councilmember Richard Lewis said they’d seen the reports, too.
“It’s not doing anything for our teeth,” Burnett said.
On Wednesday, Bradburn said she was also concerned about research that shows ingesting fluoride can be hazardous to the public’s health. She said she would propose bringing the issue to a vote at an upcoming council meeting.
Bradburn likely has the votes. Councilmember Joe Bernardini said Wednesday he hadn’t made up his mind but was leaning against fluoride.
Not so fast, says Dr. Harry Davis, dental director for the Florida Department of Health.
“The scientific community fully supports fluoridation as safe and effective” way to protect against tooth decay, Davis said. That includes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventions and the American Dental Association.
Davis said there is a “small minority” that oppose fluoridation and acknowledged there are a few studies that suggest that overconsumption of fluoride can raise the risks of disorders affecting teeth, bones, the brain and the thyroid gland.
“You don’t base policy on one or two studies,” he said.
As executive director of the Fluoride Action Network, or FAN, Paul Connett is part of that minority and maintains it’s growing and being joined by voices impossible to ignore.
A former chemistry professor for St. Lawrence University in New York, Connett has been researching the issue for several years and is determined to convince the country that fluoridation is an ineffective and dangerous policy. He called Brooksville’s proposal “sensible.”
Connett points to a 2006 report by a committee of the National Research Council recommended that the federal government lower its current limit for fluoride in drinking water because of health risks to both children and adults. He said more and more research indicates that fluoride is only effective by applying topically, such as brushing with a fluoride toothpaste or getting a fluoride treatment at the dentist.
“Swallowing fluoride makes as much sense as swallowing suntan lotion,” Connett said.
He said many studies that show fluoride’s dangers are being conducted in other countries, where the politics of an entrenched public policy don’t get in the way of science. He said nature should act as a guide: The amount of naturally occurring fluoride in a mother’s breast milk is 250 times less than what is added to water, Connett said.
Politicians and residents are taking notice of the debate.
In 2006, the city council in Del Rio, Texas, voted to stop adding fluoride, citing new evidence that shows it may be toxic.
Closer to home, the Martin County Commission, after a heated meeting featuring anti-fluoride activists on one side and dentists on the other, voted 3-2 in December 2006 against fluoridation. However, the city of Stuart, which is in Martin County, put the issue of fluoridation on the ballot this past May and it passed with 52 percent of the voters saying they wanted the mineral in the their water.
Hernando County does not fluoridate its water, but that’s not for lack of effort over the years by dentists who have told commissioners that the absence of fluoride increases the cases of tooth decay they see. In 2001, commissioners and then-utilities director Kay Adams balked at the startup costs of a fluoridation program, which at that point was estimated at more than $300,000, with annual costs of some $125,000.
Commissioner Diane Rowden, who was on the board at the time, said then that the board also needed to consider the residents who don’t want chemicals in their water.
Bradburn said she didn’t think putting the issue to city voters is necessary. Making such a decision, she said, is “what we’re elected to do.”
Asked to weigh in on the issue, Brooksville dentists William Holbrook and Linda Barry said in a statement Wednesday that the decision to eliminate fluoride would be a foolish one because it would take away a proven asset to oral hygiene.
The decision, they worried, “woul