Vermont’s doctor governor has a prescription for the people of Brattleboro: Put fluoride in your public water system.

Gov. Howard Dean said Monday that studies have shown that Brattleboro residents have about twice as many cavities as residents who live in towns that add fluoride to water supplies.

He said by not fluoridating the water, one of the state’s most progressive communities is neglecting the needs of its low-income residents.

“For poor kids it makes all the difference,” he said.

This is the second time in the past few months that the governor has taken the town to task for lack of fluoridation, said Town Manager Jerry

Following a visit by the governor in late fall, Remillard said he and Public Works Director Stephen Barrett took steps to explore the feasibility of fluoridation. Barrett has been having conversations with the Department of Health, Remillard said.

Remillard said in the late 1960s and early ’70s, voters twice defeated a bid for fluoridation.

“Based on the defeat, we pretty much let the issue go. There has been no outcry from the public,” Remillard said.

Remillard said there is no room at the water filtration plant to add a
fluoridation system without expanding the building. Between 1985 and 1990, the town spent $8 million to upgrade the town’s water system and to build the new plant, Remillard said.

The Department of Health signed off on the work, he said. There was no recommendation to add a fluoridation system at the time, he said.

Dr. Roger “Tommy” Ivey, director of Dental Health Services for the state, said that in 1993-94, a dental survey at 10 Vermont high schools showed students who drank fluoridated water had half the cavities of those who did not.

Some Brattleboro residents feel that fluoride can be toxic, weaken bones and even cause cancer.

But Ivey disagrees. Nationwide studies have shown that water fluoridation reduces cavities in children and adults by 30 to 40 percent. While fluoride is most beneficial to teeth that have emerged, it is also good for teeth that still lie beneath the surface of the gums, he said.

People who use toothpaste or a mouthwash with fluoride gain some benefit, but not as much as those who used fluoridated water, Ivey said.

Ivey said people’s main objection to fluoridation is having additional
substances added to their water. He said no one believed any longer that fluoridation was a communist plot.

Fluoridation is endorsed by the American Dental and American Medical
Associations and the American Cancer Society.

“It’s been more than 50 years and all fluoride has done so far is reduce the amount of tooth decay by gobs,” he said.