BANGOR — A Bangor pediatrician told members of the City Council on Monday evening that it’s time to revisit the longtime practice of adding fluoride to the city’s public water supply.
Fluoride, which occurs naturally in some water sources and is monitored as an environmental contaminant, also is added in small quantities to many public water supplies across the country to help prevent tooth decay. Like many American communities, Bangor has been fluoridating its water since the 1960s.
Decades ago, when public health officials first recommended adding fluoride to water supplies, “the science wasn’t so good,” according to Dr. Leo Leonides, who has practiced in Bangor for more than 30 years. While he doesn’t dispute claims that fluoride in controlled doses may protect teeth from disease, he said, a mounting body of evidence shows that fluoride’s risks as a water additive override its potential benefits.
Leonides testified that many of his young patients have developed white spots and mottling on their teeth as a result of ingesting too much fluoride.
“Their parents think it’s calcium,” he said, “but it’s really an early stage of fluorosis.” The problem is more than cosmetic, he said. Fluoride taken into the body doesn’t simply affect teeth, but also travels to bones, organs and other areas. Studies from China and India show a correlation between a pregnant woman’s fluoride intake and the brain development of her fetus. Other studies link fluoride to lowered IQ, according to Leonides.
Fluoride is found in many natural and processed food sources as well as in natural and treated water supplies. Additionally, many toothpastes and mouthwashes contain fluoride, and many youngsters have fluoride painted directly onto their teeth at the dentist’s office. Leonides said there’s little doubt that this continuous, unregulated exposure has a negative impact on the health of many individuals.
While fluoride may be effective in combating tooth decay, he argued, it should be prescribed on an individual basis as measured drops or tablets, not administered wholesale to the general population. Across the nation, communities are voting against adding fluoride to their water supplies, he said, and Bangor should become the first municipality in Maine to reverse the practice.
Before the council meeting, Leonides discussed a report from the National Research Council that recommends a reduction in the federally accepted levels of naturally occurring fluoride in drinking water.
The study, released in March of this year, reviews associations between blood fluoride levels and a number of health conditions, including neurological disorders, reproductive problems, bone weakness, hormonal deficiencies, organ dysfunction, cancer and others. It recommends a reduction in the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s accepted “maximum contaminant level” for naturally occurring fluoride in drinking water, currently set at four parts per million, to some unspecified lower amount.
Most public water supplies that add fluoride maintain a level of one to two parts per million.
City councilors commended Leonides for raising the issue and said they would pursue the matter with the Bangor Water District and investigate how communities in other states have arrived at the decision to stop adding fluoride to their water.