Columbia Power & Water Systems voted to remove fluoride from the city’s water systems in Sept. 2013 despite opposition from local dental and health groups claiming it was needed for oral protection.
The controversial decision came after months of reviewing facts and strong opinions from both sides.
The city had been using fluoridation for its water system since 1960, but some felt it exceeded the authority a local government should have when it came to chemicals used, and their risks.
In a 3-2 vote, the CPWS board of directors decided to no longer use the Hydrofluorosilicic acid chemical for fluoridation.
“We had about 200 pages of material sent to us from customers and concerned folks on the subject and the board went through all of that material,” CPWS Executive Director Wes Kelley said.
“Of course, the people that were supporters of leaving it in the water were the dental association and those concerned about pediatric dental health. Those concerned about the use of fluoride were more concerned about potential health impacts such as fluoride sensitivity or fluorosis, which are spots you get on your teeth when you get too much fluoride.”
Councilman Mike Greene was one of the board members who voted for the de-fluoridation. To him, the decision to take it out of the city’s water system came after he discovered the harmful effects fluoride can have on certain people and the danger of having it in the same water everyone drinks.
“We didn’t feel like that was something to force people to drink because of the harm that it could cause some people and not really knowing the benefits of it. And it really is immeasurable because when you drink the water you don’t let it sit in your mouth and float around your teeth,” Greene said. “I take blood pressure medicine and I can’t imagine asking the government to put another chemical in drinking water, because some people have high blood pressure.”
The decision ultimately came down to what authority the city had to place chemicals intended for medical purposes in the city’s water system, Greene said. For something a doctor can administer for oral health, with different dosages based on the individual, he believed that is an issue the city has no right to decide.
“We felt like the thing to do for the overall health of the community is to remove that chemical out of the drinking water because it had nothing to do with purifying the water,” he said. “We’ve got cool quality water in Columbia and we felt like adding a chemical was not necessarily the best thing for the community. That’s the reason we voted to stop adding it to the drinking water.”
Since the vote, Kelley said he hasn’t heard much, if any, negative feedback from customers asking for it to be put back.
“If I’ve heard anything, it’s ‘thanks for taking it out,’” Kelley said.
Greene said he has heard similar feedback.
“I have not had people coming to me saying we should do it. I’ve actually had people come and thanking me. I’ve several people to thank us for removing that foreign chemical out of our drinking water,” Greene said.
Nearby areas like Spring Hill, Franklin, Lawrenceburg and Lewisburg have all stopped fluoridation prior to Columbia’s vote, he added.
What do the experts say?
Spring Hill and Lewisburg have had fluoride out of its water systems for about three years, which is about the time it takes to confirm an increase in a community’s dental problems, according to the American Dental Association.
Dr. James Hutton was one of the people who supports fluoridation in Columbia’s water. As a pediatric dentist, he said there has been an increase in cavities in some of his patients who have had to go without it.
“The American Dental Association actually has studies out there that show signs of increase in cavities after approximately three years,” Hutton said. “I’m starting to see that in two areas, one is Lewisburg because they’ve been without it for three years and also now in Spring Hill.”
Hutton fears Columbia may see a similar trend by next year. He said the support for putting fluoride in the water supply is strictly because of the health of children and adolescents as they are developing teeth, and the dangers cavities can cause if not properly protected.
Some might argue that baby teeth aren’t as important because they eventually fall out. Hutton said he has heard this argument and said baby teeth play a crucial part in oral development and could lead to bigger problems if not properly cleaned.
“I’ve talked to a lot of grandparents who had that same argument and I look them in the face and ask ‘Do you want your child to have that kind of tooth ache?’,” he said. “Baby teeth have nerves just like adult teeth, so they can have that same kind of pain.”
If he has to pull an abscessed tooth, it could create a snowball effect on the child’s nerves and on the development of adult teeth, Hutton said.
“If I have to take out the abscessed teeth then the kid doesn’t chew as well,” he said. “If they don’t chew as well, then they don’t grow as well. The baby teeth are a very big asset to them growing properly, chewing their food properly and not having a whole lot of pain so they miss school.”
Without fluoride in Columbia’s water, Hutton stressed how much more parents needs to be aware of their children’s dental health. For those who still can’t afford treatment from a dentist, he suggests purchasing “nursery water” or water that has been purified.
“If they want the stronger enamel on their teeth, I ask them to go to their favorite store and purchase the nursery water, a fluoridated gallon of nursury water which is roughly about $1 per gallon,” Hutton said. “Even if they make up something with sugar like lemonade, it’s okay because the kids are getting that one point per million of fluoride.”