MANCHESTER — A group of health experts, including former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop, yesterday urged city voters and those in surrounding towns to approve continued fluoridation of the public water supply.
“Fluoridation is the single most important commitment a community can make to public health,” Koop said during a press conference at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Clinic.
Voters in Manchester and four towns will cast ballots Tuesday on whether to continue fluoridation of water Manchester Water Works supplies. Manchester Mayor Robert Baines urged voters to approve the fluoridation question.
Speakers touted fluoride as a safe, easy, and effective in preventing tooth decay and other oral health problems.
Koop said drinking water is the best way to administer fluoride because it finds its way into saliva, constantly bathing teeth and gums with a low and safe level of the chemical.
He said fluoridation is supported by, “any professional organization worth its salt.”
Dr. A.J. Homicz, president of the New Hampshire Dental Society, said fluoride is just as important for the elderly as it is for children. Eight of the 10 most commonly prescribed drugs for the elderly as treatment for other health issues lead to serious dental problems, including root decay. Fluoridated water helps prevent it, he said.
Given the public benefits, he said, “there simply is no reputable question about the effectiveness and safety of fluoridated water.”
The event that city public health director Frederick Rusczek organized did not allow questions from the public, only the media, which upset fluoridation opponents.
“This is really a canned presentation,” said Barbara Hagan, a state representative working to block fluoridation. She criticized Rusczek for weighing in on a public health issue that is the subject of an election.
Manchester Water Works added fluoride to its water after city voters approved it in a 1999 referendum. Fluoridation continues, even though a state Supreme Court decision said that water customers have a right to vote on the question.
Voters in Manchester, Goffstown, Bedford, Hooksett and Londonderry will vote on Sept. 14 on the use of fluoride. A simple majority will decide the question. Hagan and others have pressed for a court order to give Derry and Auburn voters a say.
Hagan said if her petition is denied, as it was yesterday, she’d take the matter to the Supreme Court, either on grounds voters were denied their rights or over wording of the question.
Dr. Roger Masters, a Dartmouth College professor, said the city uses a form of fluoride, hydrofluorisilicic acid, which speeds the body’s absorption of lead. He recommended use of the compound be suspended until it can be made safe.
Dr. Homicz said fluoride is one of 46 chemicals that are added to public water supplies, all of them in high concentrations that are diluted into a few parts per million by the time they get to consumers.
“To single out fluoride in this group of 46 is ludicrous,” he said.
Speakers stressed that fluoride is part of the water system in 10,000 U.S. communities serving 162 million people. They said it cuts tooth decay by 35 percent and saves $80 of dental treatment for every dollar invested.
Among organizations supporting fluoride are the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association, the U.S. Public Health Service, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the state Department of Health and Human Services.