Water fluoridation, which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists among the top 10 public health achievements of century, will become a topic of conversation in Tennessee.
Proponents and opponents of water fluoridation are scheduled to face each other before the state House Conservation and Environment Committee Monday, Jan. 9.
Rep. Gary Odom (D-Nashville), who chairs the House Conservation and Environment Committee, said he wants committee members to understand the current regulations in the state regarding water fluoridation.
“What I have found is there are utility districts out there that think there is a state mandate that they fluoridate, and that doesn’t exist,” Odom said. “I want to make sure that everyone knows the status of the law, the status of the regulatory process, that this is clearly a local issue that should be decided locally by the customers of water districts and so forth.”
The Department of Environment and Conservation is responsible for advising local utility districts on how to fluoridate.
“I wanted to find out what we (the state) were doing and under what authority we were doing this,” Odom said. “Apparently there is no statutory or regulatory guidelines in the state for us doing that, which I find kind of puzzling.”
Suzanne Hubbard, director for oral health services at the Tennessee Department of Health, said Tennessee ranks fourth among all states with 96 percent of the population having access to fluoridated water. Only Illinois, Kentucky and Minnesota have higher percentages. Nationwide, an average of 67 percent of water supplies are fluoridated.
“It reduces dental decay tremendously when we fluoridate at optimum levels, which is one part per million,” Hubbard said, adding fluoride actually occurs naturally in water. “So water fluoridation is merely the adjustment of this naturally occurring mineral in the water that has been found through years of research to reduce decay by 20-40 percent in populations.”
Hubbard said communities save $38 in dental treatment costs for every dollar spent to fluoridate water.
Hubbard said research has proven that oral health has a tremendous prevention impact on illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, pre-term babies and babies born with a low birth weight.
Among the areas in Middle Tennessee that do not fluoridate water is the Pleasant View Utility District.
Its general manager, John Anthony, said the decision not to fluoridate the water was made because it was not required and it was expensive.
“You have to have a lot of apparatus to treat the fluoride in the proper dosages,” Anthony said. “When we looked into it, we determined that it didn’t improve the quality of the water and it was expensive and fluoridation is potentially dangerous if you had a malfunction in some of your equipment so we decided just not to do it.”
Opponents nationwide claim that water fluoridation can cause dangerous side effects such as bone fractures, arthritis, immune system problems and other health issues.
The National Research Council, a branch of the National Academy of Science, is currently reviewing all literature available on water fluoridation and its effects and is expected to release results in February 2006.