Opponents of water fluoridation have brandished a new weapon: a fluoride-free baby tooth cleaner that the Gerber Products Co. markets as safe and gentle.
Nashua resident Paul Harrington, president of New Hampshire Citizens for Health and Freedom, said Gerber was obviously concerned about a baby’s overexposure to fluoride.
But a Manchester city health official said the opponents were dragging up old fears about fluoride overexposure.
“The public has spoken and said we favor fluoride,” said Richard DiPentima, deputy Manchester health officer.
DiPentima said it’s fine that Gerber has not included fluoride in its tooth cleanser.
“If we have fluoride in the water, we don’t need these other supplements,” DiPentima said.
He also said the side-effects of too much fluoride–hard-to-detect white spots on teeth termed mild fluorosis–are preferable to rotted or lost teeth, which occurs in communities without fluoridated drinking water.
The side effects are expected to show up in about 10 percent of the population.
In November, Manchester voters approved fluoridation. City Water Works officials are now seeking permits to add the chemical to city water.
They expect it will be added sometime this summer.
Fluoride opponents are pushing the Board of Water Commissioners to hold a public hearing and formal vote on the issue. Commissioners have expressed no inclination for doing so.
Last week, Harrington distributed material about the new Gerber Tooth & Gum Cleanser.
The Gerber Web site calls the product a “safe, gentle way to keep your babies teeth clean.”
“Unlike regular toothpaste, it doesn’t contain fluoride, an ingredient that in large doses isn’t good for babies,” the Gerber promotional material reads.
In the magazine Pediatric Basics, an official at Gerber noted the American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatrics have changed previous recommendations regarding fluoride.
Infants under 6 months in age do not need fluoride supplements in their diets, wrote Nicholas W. Hether, Ph.D., director of product safety and regulatory sciences for Gerber.
When asked if Gerber supports fluoridation of public water supplies, Hether said the company relied on government agencies and professional societies to make such determinations.
“They’re realizing young children shouldn’t get too much of it,” Harrington said.
Foods, beverages and medicines prepared in communities with fluoridated water contain traces of that fluoride, he said. Those products are then sold throughout the country, in communities that both fluoridate and don’t fluoridate.
So a new mother putting fluoride in her child’s bottle doesn’t know whether she’s giving her child too much fluoride, Harrington said.
“People aren’t aware of their total fluoride intake,” he said.
But DiPentima said that adding fluoride to drinking water would actually be a better way to control exposure.