Fluoride Action Network

Columbia: Utility mulls removing fluoride from city water

Source: The Daily Herald | September 8th, 2013 | By Bailey Loosemore

In the past five years, a Lewisburg dentist has seen a 70-80 percent increase in cavities and has performed at least three mouth extractions on children under the age of five, pulling out all of their teeth and replacing them with new ones.

Dr. Dennis Sigman said he knows the main reason for the increase in decay, and the same situation could soon take place in Columbia.

On Sept. 25, the Columbia Power and Water System Board of Public Utilities will vote for or against removing fluoride from the city’s water — a step Lewisburg took in 2008.

Fluoride is a salt compound used to harden tooth enamel and prevent decay, Sigman said. The chemical has been used in public water for more than 50 years, but ending fluoridation has been a trend in Middle Tennessee cities recently. Following Lewisburg’s decision, Spring Hill and Hohenwald both removed fluoride from their water in 2011.

CPWS officials first announced the possible removal in July on customers’ bills, letting them know of an August meeting at which board members were supposed to discuss the issue and take a vote. After hearing arguments from local dentists and health officials, the board decided to hold off the vote for another month, CPWS General Manager Wes Kelley said.

“So far, I’ve not heard from a lot of public at large,” Kelley said Thursday. “I’ve heard from some. Some people say thank you for taking it out of the water, but we haven’t taken it out — we’re still discussing it. I think there are certainly people on both sides of the issue.”

A history of use

CPWS has fluoridated the city’s water since the 1960s, and city officials enforced the chemical’s use up until earlier this year, City Attorney Tim Tisher said. During a revision of the city’s water code, officials made numerous changes, including deleting a provision that required fluoridation of water, he added.

“The city council doesn’t need to be regulating fluoride content because they don’t have any idea how much to regulate,” Tisher said.

Now, CPWS has full control over what chemicals are added to the water and how much is used, he said.

Fluoride has no water purification benefits or other purpose than for dental health, Kelley said. The chemical costs CPWS about $40,000 a year and is optional for the organization to add.

The amount spent on fluoride equals out to about $2 per person, based on CPWS’s estimated customer base, and is less than 1 percent of the average customer’s annual water bill.

The cost is one of the reasons CPWS is considering eliminating fluoridation, Kelley said, but not the only one.

The chemical is also hazardous to employees who handle it, and the board is unsure if dental health should be part of the municipal water system’s role.

“The board is really just weighing this out — what is the best thing to do,” Kelley said.

Benefits of fluoride

The American Dental Association endorses the fluoridation of community water supplies “as safe, effective and necessary in preventing tooth decay,” according to its website.

The organization states fluoridation is the single most effective public measure in promoting dental health, with studies showing the chemical reduces decay by 20-40 percent.

Dr. Andy Woodard has practiced dentistry since 1974 and said fluoride has the biggest benefit for children and elderly residents, as well as people who can’t afford dental health care.

“They need all the help they can get to keep from losing their teeth. This is just so simple,” Woodard said of fluoride.

Residents can buy products containing fluoride from pharmacies or get fluoride treatments at a dentist’s office, but the treatments cost $20, Sigman said.

“This is an area with young families who are on a fixed income, pretty much,” said Sigman, a Columbia resident. “There’s not a lot of expendable income to spend on dental visits.”

Dr. James Hutton of Columbia is a pediatric dentist and said he expects to see more kids with cavities if the fluoride is removed.

“The benefits of children having fluoridated water far outweigh any risks because the kids are forming their teeth,” Hutton said.

Sigman and Woodard said they think people receive misinformation about fluoride, especially from websites, about its negative aspects. Specifically, Woodard mentioned people believe fluoride can cause health problems if ingested and that it was used by Nazis during the Holocaust.

“Anti-fluoridationists, they put things on YouTube that say it’s used by Nazis,” Woodard said. “That is fluorine; that’s a gas. Fluoride is a solid. They’re completely different chemicals.”

Sigman said he’s not sure what CPWS’s reason for removing fluoride would be, but as someone who drinks the water, he hopes they leave the chemical in.

“My personal thought is a public utility should serve the public,” he said.

CPWS board members will discuss fluoride at their work session Sept. 18 and vote on its use Sept. 25. Both public meetings are at 3:30 p.m. in the CPWS building at 201 Pickens Lane.