COLLIER COUNTY – Collier County commissioners voted to keep fluoride in tap water Tuesday, ending a five-month debate among health professionals, taxpayers, and county leaders.

Fluoride is in about 75 percent of America’s drinking water. Many bottled water companies include the chemical as well.

Dentists believe it is a cost-effective and essential method to help fight cavities, but hundreds of people in Collier County have been demanding it be removed — claiming it is causing several serious health problems.

Health professionals on both sides of the debate crowded Collier County’s government center — some holding “fluoride rocks” signs while others held “fluoride hurts” signs.

“This commission should not be playing doctor,” said Dr. Paul Connett, a former chemist and also executive director of Fluoride Action Network. “They’re doing to everyone what an individual doctor can do to no one — forcing people to take medication without their consent.”

Connett said American children are not only being overexposed to fluoride, which can lead to fluorosis, but the 50 percent of fluoride you consume a day accumulates in your bones, leading to a variety of health problems.

“There’s overwhelming evidence that fluoride is neurotoxic,” said Connett. “Over 300 experiments – animal experiments, human experiments – lowering of IQ, etc.”

Scott Tomar with University of Florida’s College of Dentistry said Connett is wrong.

“There’s simply no evidence to support the accusations that we heard this morning,” said Tomar. “The arguments have changed over time. They’ll find a different disease, a different accusation. But all of these have been examined, all have been reviewed and they’ve all been dismissed.”

Tomar said removing fluoride would increase the prevalence of tooth decay in a community where levels are already high.

Still, opponents argue the chemical is already so easily available in toothpaste and tablets, so people should be able to add it to their diets only if they want it.

“Brush it on, spit it out,” said Connett. “That way, you avoid exposing the whole rest of your body to a toxic substance and you’re not forcing it on people that don’t want it.”