GRAND TRAVERSE CO. — Local dentists, doctors and health officials are urging the Traverse City Commission to continue to fluoridate the city’s water.
Health officials made the statement Friday morning in reaction to a small group of people who are asking the city to remove funding for the city fluoridation program from the new budget.
Traverse City has fluoridated its water system since 1951 and health officials say scientific evidence has “overwhelmingly found fluoridated water is safe and prevents tooth decay” in children and adults.
“The proven public and dental heath benefits are why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proclaimed community water fluoridation as ‘one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century,'” said Wendy Trute, a health officer for Grand Traverse County.
Opponents of city fluoridation processes claim fluoride is a toxic substance and should not be in public water supplies, but health officials say opponents can “misunderstand and be alarmed by inaccurate and false information about fluoridation found on the Internet including so-called ‘studies’ alleging fluoride harms public health.”
Trute said many items used in daily life can be considered toxic if used incorrectly or in the wrong concentrations.
“Medicines, or even vitamins, are good examples,” said Trute. “These items enhance our lives when used appropriately, but can pose a health risk if they are consumed in too high of a quantity. The same applies to fluoride in the drinking water. When added to a community water supply at the proper level, fluoride has been scientifically proven to be a safe and effective means of preventing tooth decay in all populations, especially the poor and underserved.”
A Traverse City man, Ben Hansen, attended the conference on Friday and says he wishes the commission would put the decision to a public vote.
“I would ask the commissioners would you at least support a public referendum on this issue,” said Hansen. “Because it’s never gone to the voters. Since 1951 it’s been approved year after year by the commissioners it’s never been voted on by the people. ”
A local dentist, Dr. Vince Mack, DDS, also spoke at the news conference and said city residents would have more dental problems, including higher dental bills, if the city ended the fluoridation program.
Dr. Michael P. Collins, MD, MS, pointed to multiple surveys that show dental care to be the most commonly unmet need of families, especially in low-income areas. He claims if low-income families were unable to compensate for un-fluoridated water with other forms of fluoride, they would also likely be unable to afford the increased dental bills that would come later in life from tooth decay.
“Eliminating the protection of fluoride in our water at this time would absolutely be a huge step backwards,” said Dr. Collins, the Medical Director for Grand Traverse, Benzie and Leelanau Health Departments. “The families least able to compensate with fluoride rinses or tablets are the ones least able to afford the extra dental care their children would require.”
Several towns in northern Michigan have done away with fluoridation programs for the city’s drinking water.
Boyne City decided in May to stop putting fluoride in the city’s water supply. The City Commission made the decision because they claimed it made the water healthier.
Mayor Pro-Tem Gene Towne and two other commissions based their decision on information they found online that claimed over-exposure can cause a variety of diseases.
Boyne City decided to allow residents to decide how much, if any, fluoride they want to use.
However, there are arguments that it is more cost effective for the city to handle the fluoridation, rather than individuals.
Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes said the fluoridation program costs users less than a dollar per year. Boyne City Manager Michael Cain said the program there cost between $2,500 to $3,500 per year, also roughly $1 per person.
But those who pay for their own fluoride treatments will see prices of around $38 per year.
Estes also claimed Traverse City has recently invested heavily into modernizing the fluoridation system.
“Water fluoridation is one of the hallmarks of a modern, desirable community that values and helps protect public health,” Estes said. “Medical, dental and public health experts are in near unanimous agreement that water fluoridation is safe and effective, and we simply must continue our water fluoridation program for the public health of our citizens.”
Charlevoix and Harbor Springs currently use fluoride in the water supply, while Gaylord, Kalkaska, Cadillac, and Mancelona do not.
The program will be discussed Monday at the Traverse City Commission meeting which is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at the Governmental Center.