Fluoride Action Network

Gloucester: Dentists, doctors offer pro-fluoride case

Source: Gloucester Times | October 21st, 2015 | By Ray Lamont, Staff Writer

 The other side

  • What: Cape Ann Fluoride Action Network presents a forum on why Gloucester
    should stop fluoridating its water. The short documentary “Professional
    Perspectives” will be shown, followed a question and answer period.
  • When: Thursday, Oct. 29, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Friend Room, Sawyer Free Library, 2 Dale Ave.

Dr. Myron Allukian Jr., the city of Boston’ dental health director for 34 years and now president of the Massachusetts Coalition for Oral Health, says that Gloucester voters’ choice in deciding whether to continue adding supplemental fluoride to the city’s water should be a “no-brainer.”

“The nice thing is that everyone in the community benefits,” Allukian said Monday night, speaking at a forum hosted by the Gloucester Board of Health that drew some 80 people to City Hall’s Kyrouz Auditorium. “It benefits everyone, irrespective of income, irrespective of color, irrespective of religion …”

“Do what’s best for the entire community,” he said, urging Gloucester residents to vote “yes” and support the continuation of Gloucester’s community fluoridation when they fill in the circle on a non-binding referendum that will appear on the city’s Nov. 3 ballots.

While Allukian’s sentiments were echoed by four other dentists and physicians on Monday night’s panel, those who brought the issue to Gloucester’s ballot —members of a citizens group called the Cape Ann Fluoride Action Network — largely stayed away from the city-sponsored forum or did not participate, given that the Board of Health’s panel did not include anyone who opposes or questions the need for continuing fluoridation efforts.

“That’s not a forum, it’s an infomercial,” CAFAN activist Karen Favazza Spencer said earlier in the day.

Those who attended raised some questions regarding fluoridation, submitting their comments or queries on index cards coordinated by city Health Director Noreen Burke while Board of Health President Dr. Richard Sagall essentially served as forum moderator.

But one by one, the panelists — Allukian, local pediatrician Dr. Brian Orr, dentist Dr. John Fisher, local orthodontist William Bebrin, and Gloucester resident Dr. Candace Thompson — sought to cast aside fears that fluoride and fluoridation are doing more harm than good.

Noting that fluoridation critics often cite the lack of fluoride use by cities and towns in Europe, Allukian noted that’s because those countries generally supplement fluoride in their salt, and have chosen that route to utilize the naturally occurring ion.

“Community fluoridation isn’t the only solution (to better oral health),” said Fisher, “but it’s an important one. For dentists, fluoride in the water makes tooth decay manageable.  It does not eliminate it, but it makes it manageable.”

Orr noted that, since the advent of community fluoridation — launched in Gloucester in 1981 — fewer and fewer children have had to undergo painful and costly oral surgeries. Noting his findings working in children’s health projects in countries such as Mexico, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, he said the dental and overall health differences he found were palpable.

“Make no mistake about it, we have the best teeth right here,” he said. “And we have the best teeth thanks to the benefit of having fluoride in our water.”

Sagall — who, with Gloucester Board of Health, has endorsed the continuation of community fluoridation — emphasized that Gloucester would not be seeking to “de-fluoridate” its water system, even in the event of a nonbinding vote to discontinue the city’s current practice. The city now supplements its naturally occurring fluoride, averaging 0.2 parts per million, in its water with an additional boost to get to the federal standard of 0.7 ppm, he said, and the vote calls for simply halting the supplementation.

He noted that fully de-fluoridating the city’s water would cost up to $4 million, with additional money needed to maintain and manage the system. Stopping the fluoridation supplementation, he said, would cost in the range of $6,000 to $12,000.

Responding to a question about the “economic impact” on the city, however,  if a move to stop community fluoridation went forward, Allukian said with a scoff that it would cost $4 million “for starters” — and no one on the panel corrected him. And, while adding extensive information on the social justice aspect and other benefits of fluoridation, Allukian decried what he and Bebrin at different times called the “junk science” and “bad science” touted by fluoride opponents.

While Sagall, Fisher and Orr all talked of attending a forum to be hosted Thursday, Oct. 29, by CAFAN advocates at Sawyer Free Library, Allukian said he would not attend — and had no reason to debate the issue.

“I’m sure I can go on the Internet and hear exactly what they have to say,” he said of the fluoridation critics. “It’s always the same,” he added, saying at one point he saw no need to debate “people who would argue the Earth is flat.”

That didn’t sit well with some in the audience, including Lanesville resident and activist Valerie Nelson, who said she found Allukian’s depiction of fluoridation doubters “offensive.”

“I shouldn’t have to be called a flat-Earther just because I question some of the science,” she said.

For their part, Allukian and Sagall said they don’t consider themselves true fluoride advocates.

“I’m not a pro-fluoridationist,” said Allukian, who was Boston’s dental health director when it began community fluoridation in 1978.  “I’m a public health professional, and I promote and want to protect the health of our communities.

“That’s what I want the people of Gloucester to do, too,” he said. “Listen to your doctors; vote to continue fluoridation and protect the public health of the community.”