A proposal to fluoridate water in the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District has begun making its way toward a November ballot vote.
Unanimous selectmen’s votes May 13 in Kennebunk and May 23 in Kennebunkport gave the proposal two of the four town votes necessary to qualify for the ballot. A Kennebunk group, many of them dentists and orthodontists, have championed the issue. If adopted, the measure would add fluoride to water provided to Ogunquit, Arundel, the Kennebunks, Wells and portions of Biddeford and York.
The fundamental aim of the measure would be to prevent tooth decay.
“It can really make a big, big difference,” said Dr. Lisa Howard, an orthodontist leading the Kennebunk-based group. “Especially for young children. Those are the people who benefit most.”
Wells selectmen chose to table the issue until June 4 to determine whether users of well water would be included in the vote.
Sixty-seven water systems, about 75 percent of the systems in Maine, fluoridate their water. The town of Norway, in 1952, was first to take the step. Today, about 35 percent of the state’s population has fluoridated water in their homes.
The process will require transporting and storing hydrofluorosilicic acid at KKW’s water treatment facility. Fluoride is naturally occurring in groundwater in many areas. In its acid form, the chemical is considered toxic. The state monitors the process of diluting the acid into drinking water, releasing particles of fluoride.
The Environmental Protection Agency has set maximum contaminant levels for fluoride in drinking water at 4 parts per million and a cautionary recommendation of 2 parts per million. The risk above these levels is of a condition called dental fluorosis.
Prolonged exposure to fluoride at levels above 2 parts per million can cause an early stage fluorosis – discolored, microscopic patterns on the surface of the teeth. Extended exposure to levels above 4 parts per million can make the condition visible.
Stephani Moranci, state assistant engineer and fluoridation officer, said Maine uses a level of 1.2 parts per million, a level set by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta specifically for the state. KKW would submit fluoride level reports to the state four times a month.
“I look at the monthly reports they submit, and if they go above 1.4 (parts per million), I give them a call,” Moranci said.
If a water district exceeds the 2 parts per million level, it must report the reading in the local newspaper. The district must also report if it stops fluoridating for any reason for more than 14 days.
A state study of fifth grade children in 1985 showed more than half had decay on permanent teeth. A statewide study of kindergarten and third graders in 1999 showed about two thirds of the younger children and just over half of the older group had no tooth decay.
Dr. Howard, an orthodontist practicing in Biddeford, said over the long term fluoridation can also help ease the burden on the medical community.
“We have the problem that we don’t have enough dentists in Maine as it is,” Howard said. “If we could eliminate some of the disease and the need for dentists, it would make the situation better.”
Selectmen in Arundel are set to vote on the matter May 28. Selectmen in Ogunquit will vote on June 4.