Fluoride Action Network

Fluoride levels may be on decline

Source: The Daily Times (Florence AL) | Staff Writer
Posted on March 28th, 2011
Location: United States, Alabama

The federal government’s announcement that fluoride levels in drinking water will likely be lowered this year didn’t come as a surprise to Florence dentist William McClanahan.

“I don’t think we’re going to notice much of a difference in our patients,” he said. “And it’s probably a good thing. I’ve seen several kids who’ve gotten too much fluoride and ended up with mottled teeth.”

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It was 1945 when Grand Rapids, Mich., became the first city in the United States to add fluoride to its drinking water as a result of the federal government’s request for cities to do so. Since then, the majority of Americans have been regularly consuming the additive when they drink tap water.

In January, however, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency initiated a review of the maximum amount of fluoride in drinking water. If those agencies choose to lower fluoride levels, it would mean the maximum amount in water would be .7 milligrams per liter, rather than the range of .7 to 1.2 milligrams it is today.

One of the reasons for the review, according to a statement released by the EPA, is Americans have access to more sources of fluoride than they did when water fluoridation was first introduced. In addition to toothpaste and mouth rinse, fluoride is available in supplements and can be applied by dentists.

Once the federal government approves the new guidelines, it will be up to individual states to disseminate the information to cities that fluoridate.

Officials at the Alabama Department of Public Health said that, while 82 percent of Alabamians receive fluoride in their water, the process is voluntary. A training and inspection process are involved as well as the purchase of new equipment, and that can be cost prohibitive for some rural areas.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that water remain fluoridated, even if fluoride is present in other sources.

Officials there said water fluoridation is beneficial for reducing and controlling tooth decay and promoting oral health in children as well as adults. They credit community water fluoridation for the reduction in tooth decay.

James Vance, head of the water board in Muscle Shoals, said he’s heard a change could be coming, and he’s prepared for it if, indeed, the fluoride levels are lowered.

Already, he said the city’s level is right in the middle of the current guidelines at 1 milligram per liter of water, and the expectation is that it will lowered to reflect the new levels once the state makes its recommendation.

“Following the new guidelines could actually save us money,” he said.

The city spends just more than $2,000 a month on fluoride that comes to the facility on River Road in 55-gallon drums.

Sheffield Utilities General Manager Allen Hughes said the city’s water department already has lowered its fluoride content from one milligram per liter to .7.

“We’re 30 percent less than we used to be,” Hughes said. “But there’s an ongoing debate. Some people are for it; some people are against it.”

For Sheffield, like Muscle Shoals, it means the city will be buying 30 percent less fluoride.

Colbert County also has reduced the amount of fluoride it adds to the water supply, according to County Engineer John Bedford.

While it had been 1 milligram per liter of water, it’s now at the new level of .7 milligrams per liter of water.

Tuscumbia Utilities Director David Thornton said the levels of fluoride in the city are kept at .8 to 1.2 milligrams per liter, so a reduction wouldn’t be a major change.

“That wouldn’t be any problem with me, and I don’t think it would affect the fluoride level enough to have a negative impact on fluoride application to the teeth,” he said. “I do believe fluoride in drinking water is very important. It’s more important than toothpaste because, when you brush your teeth, that fluoride treatment lasts only a couple of hours, but with fluoride in the drinking water, every time you take a drink of water, you’re getting that application to your teeth.”

Mike Doyle, Gas and Water/Wastewater Department manager for Florence, said he’s also aware of the potential for a change, but dropping the additive all together isn’t an option.

“Dropping fluoride altogether is a community decision, but is not an option that is recommended by the (Centers for Disease Control) or (Alabama Department of Public Health),” he said. “It would be our recommendation that a decision to discontinue use would not be made by the city of Florence without extensive input from the customers of the water system and the dental and medical community.”

McClanahan agrees removing fluoride completely isn’t the answer.

“The patients I see who come to me from rural areas show a significant increase in dental (cavities), and it’s because they don’t have fluoride in their water,” he said. “While tooth mottling might be a problem in some cases with too much fluoride, the lack of fluoride in water can cause much greater damage.”

Staff Writers Russ Corey, Bernie Delinski and Robert Palmer contributed to this report.