After receiving a report from Orchard Hilt & McCliment Inc. last January village officials have again taken up the discussion of fluoridating the village’s water supply.
The report advised the village to consider water fluoridation. There were also suggestions to survey the public and engage in a public education campaign.
Fluoridation didn’t receive a warm reception at the outset of the discussion.
“To tell you the truth, this has been a very discouraging and lousy entire discussion on this,” Village Council Trustee Joe Semifero said at Monday’s regularly scheduled council meeting. “For me it started out with the article that was in the (Dexter Leader) that I can only assume Dr. Wehr called (in).”
He was referencing a story published in the Dec. 25, 2008 edition of the Dexter Leader in which Barbara Wehr, the owner of Dexter Dental Center, talked to the newspaper about a pair of private water tests she conducted.
The tests revealed the fluoride levels at the north and south end of the village’s water system to be below recommended thresholds for fluoride content.
Semifero first took issue with a particular comment Wehr made about what she observed as a gap between the oral health of some of her pediatric patients in the village, who were not using fluoride supplements, and pediatric patients living in the townships. Her patients who reside in townships or other areas that are known not to have fluoridated water are recommended to use fluoride supplements. Wehr was not broaching that topic with the parents of parents in the village, because she had assumed Dexter’s water was fluoridated.
Semifero was skeptical of the science behind the recommended amount of fluoride in municipal water, which is .7 to 1 parts per million.
In the two tests Wehr conducted, the water from a tap at a Central Street home contained .32 parts per million fluoride and the water coming from Wehr’s own tap had .31 parts per million. Those consuming water with under .6 parts per million are recommended to consult their dentist.
These guidelines are recommended and supported by the American Dental Association and the Center for Disease Control.
“The whole thing that seems hokey is the PPM (parts per million) levels,” he continued. “The problem is that doesn’t fit the amount of fluoride a person should have at all. PPM means the amount of fluoride you’re going to get per glass of water. That’s not how they prescribe medication.”
He took issue with the PPM standard being applied to diverse populations of people, as well as the fact that he couldn’t find any studies done with control groups.
“How do you analyze how water affects people over a long period of time?” he questioned.
For Trustee Paul Cousins the issue was about choice.
“I respect the health care provider information,” he explained. “I have not had one person come to me and say they want this.”
He did admit that some people have approached him referring to fluoride as “poison,” and saying they do not wish to have it in village water.
Cousins told council that he personally gave fluoride supplements to his two children when he moved out to the country many years ago, after discussing the matter with his wife.
“We felt it was necessary that our children have supplements while they were young so we provided the drops,” he said. “If I lived there today and if I still had children I would still have to make that decision.
“For me it comes down to freedom of choice. If I have fluoride in my water I have no choice. People have to make a choice to take care of their health care and take responsibility.”
Despite “seeing the benefits of (fluoridation), Cousins felt fluoridation was “forcing” that option on residents.
Village Trustee Jim Smith wondered aloud at the idea of doing what he recalled happening in the 50s and 60s when dentists worked with the school system.
“They made the tablets available, but parents had a choice whether their children would participate in it.”
Smith added that distribution through the schools would also give it a wider range of distribution than through the village’s water system, since there are more children in the school district than within the system’s service area.
Village President Shawn Keough said he would like to see someone provide him with some sort of proof that the difference between the natural fluoride that occurs in village water and the recommended PPM level is actually beneficial.
“For me there’s a huge difference between none and some,” he explained. “I know there have [been] some studies that have said that the minimum level should be .7, but I didn’t find anything in my studies that showed me how that minimum was established.”
Keough contended he believes that the level of naturally occurring fluoride in the village’s well water is close to .5 than .31.
Tests conducted since the 80s show the fluoride level being .4 starting in 1984 through 1994. In 1997 a new well field was added and tested at .6. In 1998 the level of the old field was .4 in 1998 and .3 in 1999 and 2000.
More consistent testing of the new well field began in 2001, when the measured fluoride level was .4. That was the level of fluoride in the system in 2002 as well. In 2005 a test showed .5 and further tests in 2004 and 2005 came back as .4 again.
In 2006 a test showed .31 and in 2007 the fluoride level was .35.
Tests of the fifth well site that has recently been approved in an agreement between the village and Dexter Community Schools as an addition to the village’s water system tests .23 in last year and .26 this year.
It is unclear how representative those tests are of the system as a whole or what the system would measure after the fifth well site goes online.
Public Services Superintendent Ed Lobdell attended a seminar recently during which fluoridation was discussed.
The conclusion he reached after the seminar was that getting an accurate reading of the naturally occurring fluoride in the system would require a good deal of time and work, as well as an upgrade to the Dexter Wastewater Treatment Plant’s laboratory testing equipment.
It’s unclear how much that equipment would cost at this time, according to village officials, but OHM has said the cost of installing all of the necessary equipment to the existing water infrastructure would be $79,000. With the fifth well site online the cost would be closer to $100,000, since that well is off site in relation to the rest of the system.
“If we could spend $100,000 and solve tooth decay I guess I’m all for that, but it’s not that simple,” Keough said. “You don’t know how it’s going to affect any particular person, but on a general population you’re probably having a benefit on the overall health of the community.”
Keough said he knows the numbers. Now he wants to know how “they got there.”
He was also concerned that residents would not actually ingest the fluoridated water.
“I’m afraid 99 percent of the water we would treat probably would go down your hair or onto the dishes or into the grass,” Keough said. “We have a hardness problem too, with magnesium and calcium. Reverse osmosis systems remove (those and the fluoride). We’ll put it in and it’ll be removed.”
Village residents and dental professionals were on hand to voice their concern during the meeting.
“The village needs to make it clear that the minimum amount isn’t in there or put it in there,” said resident Bonnie Bisson.
Bisson told the council that dentists have advised her that being in the village meant her children were “taken care of” as far as fluoride intake is concerned.
“I would have been very happy to know this ten years ago, because I would have been giving my children supplements,” she said. “You guys need to do the necessary research and talk to people that truly can provide the information.
“Don’t assume, don’t think, don’t wonder – do you research before you decide.”
Carol Schreck, a resident and a health care professional with a background in oral health, was for fluoridation.
“This was my Master’s Degree,” she told council. “This was the hottest issue then. It was contentious, especially in Ohio.
“The reason most people (in the area) aren’t having cavities is the residual effect of Ann Arbor. There are many products from Ann Arbor we’re exposed to that have Ann Arbor water in them. We eat products from Ann Arbor.”
Schreck spoke out to residents on the record, saying that the fluoridation process and subsequent measuring processes would prevent “poisoning” or fluorosis – a condition involving white splotches on teeth from over-consuming fluoride.
Village Trustee Jim Carson said he has talked to health care professionals since the fluoride topic came to light, in addition to doing his own research.
He told council that based on his studies and conversations he would imagine a hearing attended by health professionals would provide a resounding, uniform answer to the question of fluoridation.
“What changed my opinion more than anything was talking to my children’s pediatrician, dentists and … I’m married to a health care professional clinical nutritionist,” Carson said. “If we were to call a public meeting for the purpose of hearing comment on this and invited health care professionals up to this podium they would say add the fluoride to the water – it’s a no-brainer.”
Carson also considered the increasing life expectancy of Americans.
“We’re living longer and our teeth are not falling out like they used to and people over 60 need fluoride,” he said. “Old people need fluoride too.”
Carson acknowledged that fluoride was a “political issue” that is surprisingly contentious to those outside of the health care world and that it would be a tough road ahead investigating the matter and surveying the public.