Fluoride Action Network

Editorial. Reckless ‘Caution’: Decision to stop fluoridation not evidence-based

Source: By The Post-Standard Editorial Board | December 11th, 2012
Location: United States, New York

Water fluoridation is just counterintuitive enough to keep controversy alive — even though the process has worked for 65 years to reduce child and adult tooth decay.

First, there’s reflexive reluctance to add a chemical to the public water supply — without the informed consent of constituents. Then there’s the fact that concentrated fluoride is a human hazard. Even though it’s diluted to safe levels in drinking water, skeptics say they have no control over how much an individual consumes. Another stubborn belief is that fluoride damages water pipes.

These factors led officials in Pulaski last month to stop fluoridating village drinking water, seven years after they began. Michael Sacco, head of the Pulaski Water Board, said pipe corrosion was a particular worry. He noted some of the village’s water lines date back to 1918.

But his main concern was health-related. “The fluoride is added as medicine,” he told staff writer Marnie Eisenstadt, “and it’s a nasty way to medicate people without their permission.”

The village board affirmed the decision 3-1, barely a week after the water board acted — that is, without the people’s permission. The lone dissenter was 25-year veteran board member Bill Buckley, a retired dentist. Noting that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had called fluoridation “one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century,” he said Pulaski board’s decision was based on “misinformation.” After the vote, Buckley resigned in protest.

Pulaski joins 40 other water providers in the five-county Central New York region that do not fluoridate — including the cities of Auburn, Cortland and Oneida. Because most cities and suburbs use fluoride, New York’s rate tops 73 percent. That places the state in the middle of the pack nationwide.

It doesn’t take much digging to uncover the benefits of fluoridation and refute the critics. The CDC cites studies showing fluoridation reduces cavities for children and adults. Gone are the rotting teeth and routine extractions of a century ago.

Retired dentist Buckley noted that after Antigo, Wis., stopped fluoridating, second-graders experienced a 200 percent increase in cavities — and the community changed course. In Alaska, a CDC study last year found a 32 percent higher cavity rate in children not served by fluoridated water.

Fluoride is not a “poison” or “medication.” It occurs naturally in water and food, according to Jayanth Kumar, who directs the New York Bureau of Dental Health. While concentrated doses are not recommended, the only negative side effect is fluorosis, which could disturb tooth enamel in young children. Keep in mind, drinking water also contains trace amounts of chlorine, aluminum sulphate, calcium hydroxide, arsenic, copper, lead and mercury — and is perfectly safe.

As for corroding pipes, that shibboleth should have been laid to rest years ago. “The facts do not support the allegations,” a federal notice declared in 1968.

None of this may persuade authorities in Pulaski. Sacco said if pipe corrosion cannot be confirmed, neither can it be disproved — and he would rather err on the side of caution.

It’s a shame if “caution” results in more tooth decay in Pulaski. If the board won’t reconsider its decision, at least let more constituents have their say.