For more than 50 years, the city of Milwaukee has been adding fluoride to its drinking water. Now, a Milwaukee alderman is calling for an end to that practice, claiming the chemical is dangerous. WUWM’s Erin Toner was at City Hall Tuesday when the Alderman detailed his concerns and representatives of the medical community insisted he is misinformed about the science behind fluoride safety.

Milwaukee Ald. Jim Bohl says he does not drink Milwaukee water.

“In my own home use, yes, my wife and I will purchase from an outside source because of our concern over the safety and efficacy of excessive fluoride consumption and the current fluoride in the Milwaukee water. Absolutely,” Bohl says.

Bohl called a press conference Tuesday to explain his resolution that would stop the city from adding fluoride to its water supply. He says more than 100 studies of animals and 24 studies of humans show fluoride consumption produces adverse health effects, including dental fluorosis. It can lead to discoloration of teeth.

“We all know that we do not have children or anyone swallow toothpaste .And the reason we don’t do that is because of the poison substance of fluoride. If fluoride was such an effective and non-harmful substance, why would we not encourage everyone to swallow their toothpaste?” Bohl says.

Milwaukee has added fluoride to its drinking water since the early 1950s. The Lake Michigan water already contains a small amount of fluoride, then the city adds more to reach a level the EPA recommends for reducing tooth decay.

Several dentists and medical professionals showed up at Ald. Bohl’s press conference and spoke to reporters afterward about the benefits of fluoridated water.

Matt Crespin is associate director of the Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin.

“It’s very important that people do their homework and they understand that this has been proven time and time again to be safe and effective. There’s been over 3,000 studies – peer-reviewed studies – that have proven its safety and its effectiveness. Ald. Bohl mentioned animal studies, their natural levels of fluoride and the fluoride that they’re giving the animals to ingest are 10, 20 sometimes up to 100 times higher than the fluoride that we’re getting here in our water in Milwaukee,” Crespin says.

Crespin says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists water fluoridation as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.

“It’s up there with things like vaccinations and seat belts and ability for us to identify that smoking causes other health related issues,” Crespin says.

Crespin says when Antigo, Wisconsin, removed the fluoride from its drinking water, rates of dental decay shot up by 200 percent.

Brian Hodgson, an associate professor of pediatric dentistry at Marquette University, also made his way to City Hall Tuesday. He says fluoride or the lack of it in water, can also affect the severity of tooth decay.

“In the fluoridated communities the size of those cavities are very small, very easy to restore. In the communities without fluoridated water, those cavities are very large, often require root canal and crowns to cover those teeth so the degree of injury is much greater in those areas without fluoridation,” Hodgson says.

“Milwaukee has the cleanest, safest and freshest water in America.”

Bevan Baker is commissioner of Milwaukee’s health department. He says the 40 biggest cities in the country all have fluoride in their water.

“And the use of fluoride in our system impacts in a positive way both children and adults so the health department’s recommendation is that people continue to consume the cleanest, safest, freshest water in America and that fluoride remain in our system as it has since 1953,” Baker says.

In defending his position against fluoridation, Ald. Bohl says rates of dental decay are no higher in communities that do not add fluoride to water than in places that do. He estimates the city would save $540,000 a year by not adding fluoride to its drinking water. Bohl recommends the city use that money to help residents who cannot afford dental care. A common council committee will consider his proposal Thursday.