According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tooth decay is the leading and most preventable childhood disease. It deemed water fluoridation “one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century” for its role in preventing tooth decay.
However, Newberry is not among the majority of communities in Florida that have elected to add fluoride to their water systems.
Dr. Scott Tomar, a professor at the University of Florida’s College of Dentistry, spoke to the Newberry City Commission about the benefits of water fluoridation Monday night.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that can be found in almost every body of water. Tomar, a fluoride expert who previously worked for the CDC, defined fluoridation as the process of adjusting the existing fluoride levels in drinking water to prevent tooth decay.
Tomar explained that plaque produces acids that remove the mineral content of a tooth’s enamel. He said that fluoride inhibits this process and promotes re-mineralization.
Fluoride is particularly important to the dental health of children, Tomar said. In 1951, the National Research Council recommended that “any communities with a child of sufficient size, and that obtained their water from sources free from or low in fluoride, should consider adjusting the concentration to optimum levels for oral health.”
Gainesville became the first city in Florida to fluoridate its water in 1949. Since then, 78 percent of the people in Florida are now receiving fluoridated water, according to the CDC. Nationally, 72 percent of people drinking from a public water system have fluoridated water.
“Water fluoridation is still considered the first step in the direction of the oral health of the population,” Tomar said.
He added that water fluoridation is also cost effective. A study that he conducted along with two other colleagues estimated that for every dollar spent on community water fluoridation, it saves between $8 and $49 in averted dental treatment. He projected that water fluoridation saves the country around $4.6 billion annually.
“It’s one of the few public health measures that not only prevents disease but actually saves money,” Tomar said.
Water fluoridation is approved by the World Health Organization, the Office of the Surgeon General and the American Dental Association. For all of its supporters, it also has its opponents. Tony Lopez, the Wastewater Treatment Facilities manager for Newberry, was present at the commission meeting to provide a counterpoint to Tomar’s presentation.
“If we put this into the water, we are not giving anyone a choice,” Lopez said.
Lopez cited a link between water fluoridation and problems such as tooth discoloration and bone cancer as reasons to not put fluoride in the city’s water. He suggested that the money used for water fluoridation would be better spent on dental care facilities that would treat children who are on Medicaid.
City Manager Keith Ashby and Mayor Harry Nichols both said that they had not received any response from residents concerning the issue, but if there was a demand for water fluoridation, the commission would consider it.