Experts dueled about the chemical’s merit
CORTLAND – The pro-fluoride guy drank water from a gallon jug. It was fluoridated to 0.7 parts per million. The anti-fluoride guy drank spring water from West Seneca. It has naturally occurring fluoride at 0.22 parts per million.
About the only thing they agreed on was that water is wet. In fact, the nearly 3 liters of fluoridated water Johnny Johnson drank meant he ingested 2.1 milligrams of fluoride – one fifth what the American Dental Association says is safe.
Paul Connett’s half-liter of water with only naturally occurring fluoride meant he got 0.1 milligrams of fluoride – an amount he says is dangerous for children.
Two of the nation’s foremost opponents and two of the nation’s foremost proponents of public fluoridation met in a debate Thursday in Cortland over the safety and effectiveness of publicly fluoridating water in the city, which the city doesn’t do.
The debate was sponsored by city Mayor Brian Tobin and the League of Women Voters of Cortland County in the wake of data that show half of all third-graders in the county have cavities, a third of adults over 65 have no teeth. Studies link dental health to school performance, adult productivity and even cardiac health, particularly for the portion of the city’s population – 52 percent – who live below the poverty level.
“You can’t withhold a health measure from someone when you know it works,” said Johnny Johnson, pediatric dentist from Florida and president and founder of the American Fluoridation Society, which promotes community water fluoridation.
And fluoride does work, he said, reducing cavities in both children and adults by at least 25 percent, regardless of other dental-care measures such as fluoridated toothpaste, sealants and dental varnishes. It does so in two ways: by bonding with the calcium in teeth, making them harder and less susceptible to the bacteria that cause cavities; and by saturating the system so a person’s saliva acts as a perpetual fluoride rinse.
In fact, he added, each $1 spent to fluoridate public water delivers $38 in benefits from reduced medical care, plus increases in workplace and school productivity.
“Every credible scientific group in the world recognizes fluoride as safe and effective,” Johnson said, noting more than 3,000 supporting studies.
“He cited not one single primary study,” countered Paul Connett, a retired chemistry professor, toxicologist and founder of the Fluoride Action Network, who now lives in Broome County. “Even promoters recognize its primary benefit is topical, not systemic.”
Connett, who said fluoride toothpaste should be available only by prescription, raised questions about potential connections between fluoride and arthritis, between fluoride and thyroid problems, a rare form of bone cancer and decreased intelligence.
Many of the studies have been shot down for poor methodology, and some were rewritten to prevent comments from being taken out of context. “The final analysis is there are no health issues except fluorosis below 4 parts per million, and they go away at 2 parts per million,” Johnson said. Fluorosis is a discoloring of the teeth.
“You can criticize the studies, but to say there’s no evidence is bizarre,” Connett said. “The absence of study is not the same as the absence of harm.”
Rather than fluoride, Connett supports increased education and oversight to reduce cavities. He described efforts in Nexo, Denmark, where health professionals made routine home visits in individualize programs to make sure children exercised proper dental care: brushed and flossed, kept sugar intake down and other steps. It worked.
If you use this approach of education, you save a hell of a lot of money,” Connett said. “Tooth decay is not caused by lack of fluoride. It’s caused by too much sugar and not enough education.”
“This has be be based on science, their belief is based on theology,” Connet said after the debated.
“Please fluoridated your water,” Johnson told the 60 people; at the debate. “It’s the right thing to do for your families.”
Note from FAN: The full Cortland meeting, including questions and answers, was videotaped and will soon be available. We will give the link to the video on this page and also at FAN TV.