TRENTON, N.J. — Children and adults will get fewer cavities if New Jersey requires all public water suppliers to add fluoride to drinking water, according to dental health advocates promoting the idea as a safe, cheap way to combat tooth decay.
Opponents insist that fluoridated water poses health risks, including elevated risk for certain cancers and increased bone fractures, and that too much fluoride can discolor teeth.
About one in five New Jerseyans already live in communities with fluoridated water. At issue is whether the state will require fluoridation for its 8.5 million residents covered by some 600 community water systems.
The state’s Public Health Council chewed on the question during a hearing Monday and will make a ruling in coming months. The council’s decision will stand unless the Legislature intervenes, said Robert M. Pallay, the panel’s chairman.
Health experts appearing before the panel differed sharply over fluoridation, currently required in 11 states.
Proponents say fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 20 to 40 percent and requires no change in dental habits. It’s available to all, and can be especially beneficial to people with limited access to dental care.
Every $1 spent on fluoridation saves $38 in dental care, proponents say.
Opponents say people generally get enough fluoride in the foods and beverages they consume, and those who need more can buy fluoride-enhanced toothpaste or mouth rinse. Because fluoride works topically, opponents say swallowing it has little effect on oral health.
J. William Hirzy, a scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency, charged that the chemical used to fluoridate most water _ hydrofluosilicic acid _ is a toxic waste byproduct from the fertilizer manufacturing process.
The federal Centers for Disease Control has named fluoridation as one of the 10 great health achievements of the 20th century. Mandatory fluoridation also has the support of the state and national dental associations.
“Over the past 50 years, adjusted fluoridation of community drinking water has been a major factor responsible for declining tooth decay,” said Dr. William Maas of the CDC. “Water fluoridation remains the most equitable and cost-effective method for delivering to fluoride to all members of most communities regardless of age, educational attainment or income level.”
But some European countries with nonfluoridated public water supplies have seen even steeper declines, according to the Fluoride Action Network, an advocacy group citing data from the World Health Organization.
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