At a community town hall Monday night, Mims residents in attendance showed overwhelming support to reinstate fluoride in the area’s water — but an uphill battle remains.
A panel of nearly a dozen dentists and public health experts spoke at the Cuyler Park Community Center on what they described as a serious risk to dental health in the North Brevard community of Mims after fluoridation was stopped at the Mims plant last month.
Many in the community have expressed concern and outrage after a snap vote by the Brevard County Commission removed fluoride from the drinking water. Mims residents will get a chance with their July bill to undo the halt to community water fluoridation.
If two-thirds of residents answer “yes” on a ballot attached to their water bill, fluoridation will resume.
County Commissioners at the May 4 meeting approved Commission Chair Rita Pritchett’s request to end water fluoridation at the county-run Mims Water Treatment Plant in her district. The vote was was not announced beforehand or on the meeting agenda.
Dentists and others in support of community water fluoridation were applauded overwhelmingly by those in attendance, while those who oppose the policy received a smattering of applause.
Dr. Angela McNeight, who heads Brevard County Dental Society, decried the action by the County Commission, saying the decision was made without community input, public debate or expert analysis.
Dr. Kevin Hachmeister, dental director at the Brevard Health Alliance, said removing fluoride from the water in Mims, where “the need is so great,” is the worst possible decision. Hachmeister described Mims and North Brevard as underserved in terms of dental care.
Also speaking on behalf of community water fluoridation was Dr. Yoshita Patel Hosking, who said that dentists and medical professionals who oppose the measure are in an extreme minority.
“When you calculate how many people in the dental world are anti-fluoride it comes out to about .001%,” she said. “Dentists who oppose fluoride are in the minute numbers but they’re very vocal. So it’s harder for a layperson to choose a side.”
The CDC has said fluoride in drinking water, at levels recommended by public health agencies, has proven to be a safe and effective way to reduce cavities by up to 25% in children and adults.
Water fluoridation is supported by virtually every major public health and dental organization, including the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.
Pritchett took responsibility for how the vote was conducted without community input or a public hearing and apologized for the action, which affected about 8,000 residents.
Some at the meeting expressed concern that the fluoride was removed in an offhand vote by the County Commission but would need a two-thirds supermajority to be reinstated.
Hachmeister said the high threshold for reinstating fluoride could have severe negative effects.
“The concern is that it won’t pass and they’ll be without fluoride up here. It’ll be bad, it’ll be really bad. It’ll be disaster,” Hachmeister said.
Pritchett insisted that the fluoridated water was not something that should be decided by her or the County Commission. She insisted that: “If we don’t do the supermajority, let’s say they go 51-49, I have 49% of the people who don’t want something in their water that they don’t want and I don’t know if that’s fair.”
“As for roads and bridges that’s different. But I don’t think we should impose things you ingest into your body,” she added.
Pritchett spoke at the meeting about her own personal preference and health concerns when it comes to avoid fluoride. At her home, she uses a reverse-osmosis filter to remove fluoride before consuming it.
Although 10 dentists spoke in favor of community water fluoridation, only one spoke against it. Dr. Lee Sheldon of Melbourne said there was little evidence to support that reduced cavities, a claim that is rebuked by the major health organizations and every other dentist present.
“There is very little contemporary evidence meeting the criteria that has evaluated the effectiveness of water fluoridation,” Sheldon said.
He added that much of the support for fluoridation is the result of confirmation bias, and that cavities have gone down comparably in fluoridated and non-fluoridated communities alike.
Health organizations and local dentists like Patel Hoskings strongly rebutted these claims from anti-fluoridation proponents.
“As medical professionals, we are taught to do no harm,” Patel Hoskings said. “The removal of fluoride from our water will absolutely cause harm.”