JUNEAU, Alaska — Some Juneau doctors and dentists want fluoride back on tap, months after the city stopped adding the compound — commonly used to prevent tooth decay — to public drinking water.
City Manager Rod Swope said he is prepared to keep the fluoride out until city officials can determine whether the compound is causing the leaching of copper in residential pipes. Public Works has been out of compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency copper standards for the Mendenhall Wastewater Treatment Plant.
“I think folks are going to have to hang in there with us for a few months longer until we figure out what’s going on here,” Swope said.
The city’s Public Works Department turned off the fluoride June 26, 2003, after reviewing research, director Joe Buck said. Buck wants to keep the fluoride off until July to study the effects of copper levels without fluoride in the drinking water, he said.
Buck said he was not required to notify the medical community but said, in retrospect, that he should have. Eventually a medical provider noticed that the fluoride levels were low.
On Friday, Buck sent a letter to health care professionals notifying them the fluoride had been turned off. He said the drop in copper levels so far would not be enough to recommend the removal of fluoride from the system and it may be restored July 1.
Area doctors and dentists say their patients — especially children — are being deprived of fluoride’s benefits.
Dentist Kristen Schultz, president of the Juneau Dental Society, said she plans to send a letter to Mayor Bruce Botelho and the Juneau Assembly later this week, asking that fluoride be put back in drinking water.
Meanwhile, doctors and dentists are encouraging patients to take fluoride supplements daily. This will mean added costs for parents, because fluoride supplements are available only through prescription, Schultz said.
Water fluoridation provides a more frequent exposure of fluoride to teeth than topically applied gels, said Brad Whistler, dental officer with the state Department of Health and Social Services. It costs about 98 cents per person for a community the size of Juneau, he said.
Community water fluoridation was recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the top 10 public health accomplishments of the last century, Whistler said.
Studies have shown a reduction in tooth decay due to water fluoridation to be as much as 60 percent in baby teeth and 35 percent in permanent teeth, Whistler said.