Council plans a workshop to explore the issue of fluoridation

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to adjust the wording in the Florida Dental Association president’s statement and to add additional information from the association.

City of Ocala water managers are making plans to possibly stop adding fluoride to the city’s tap water.

Staff plans to recommend that the City Council repeal the fluoridation ordinance. A repeal ordinance is set for introduction at the May 7 council meeting, according to an email sent by Ken Whitehead, Ocala assistant city manager, on Monday to a representative of the American Fluoridation Society, which advocates fluoridating public water systems.

While the issue was not on the agenda at Tuesday’s regular council meeting, several residents, including a few local dentists, expressed their opposition to the plan. The council asked staff to schedule a workshop to more fully explore the issue. A date for the workshop was not immediately set.

Fluoridation of community drinking water in the United States began in the 1940s as a way to reduce tooth decay. Today, the majority of public water supplies get fluoridated to 0.7 parts per million, the optimal amount considered effective for preventing tooth decay.

“As a pediatric dentist, I can tell you that the patients that I see that have lived their entire lives on the fluoridated water management system here, they have very few cavities. But the kids that live out in the country on wells that don’t have the benefit of fluoridation have lots of cavities and have lots of oral health problems,” said Dr. Suzanne Thiems-Heflin.

Public health experts consider community water fluoridation one of the greatest public health successes of the 20th century. Fluoride is naturally present in water, many foods and even in bottled drinks. The intake of fluoride has risen over the years, thanks to the use of fluoride-containing toothpaste and mouthwash in addition to fluoridated water.

But Sean Lanier, the city’s director of engineering and water resources, worries the city could be overdoing it and also hopes the council will consider the ethical question of forcing fluoride on their residents.

Whitehead’s email, which Dr. Johnny Johnson, president of the American Fluoridation Society, forwarded to a number of area officials on Monday, also states that staff will make a presentation in support of ending fluoridation before the second and final reading of the ordinance, which is tentatively set for the May 21 City Council meeting. The council would then vote on the measure.

In the email, Whitehead included several attachments, including a copy of a presentation that Lanier gave to Ocala’s Utility Advisory Board, which on March 26 recommended that City Council consider stopping the addition of fluoride to city water.

The presentation explains that excessive fluoride can cause dental fluorosis, which can stain teeth, or skeletal fluorosis, which can damage bones and joints, causing pain and increasing the risk of fractures. Excess fluoride also has ties to thyroid and neurological problems, among other issues.

Lanier also said the city’s fluoridation ordinance is out of date. It requires fluoridation to 1.0 part per million, more than the current accepted level. Even if council does not agree to stop fluoridation they should amend the ordinance to meet the accepted levels.

Whitehead’s email also contained numerous attachments of studies that linked health issues to excessive fluoride.

A call to Johnson of the Fluoridation Society on Tuesday was not immediately returned. According to their website,, the organization’s aims include the promotion of fluoridation of community water systems and to “debunk the opposition to fluoridation’s pseudo-science.”

Mark Lander of the Florida Department of Health in Marion County issued a statement on the issue:

“The Florida Department of Health in Marion County strongly supports the fluoridation of community water systems in our county. Fluoridation is the most cost-effective means of reducing tooth decay and is an ideal public health measure where everyone benefits, touching all classes no matter of socioeconomic status. Oral health care has been identified through Marion County community health assessments as a priority issue and the benefit of fluoride in decreasing tooth decay in children and adults has been documented over many years of study.”

The Star-Banner reached out to the Florida Dental Association, which provided this statement from its president, Dr. Jolene Paramore:

“The Florida Dental Association (FDA) supports community water fluoridation and encourages the City of Ocala to continue to support their fluoridation program. Throughout 70 years of research and practical experience, the overwhelming weight of credible scientific evidence consistently indicates that community water fluoridation is the single most effective, safe and cost-effective public health measure to prevent dental decay and repair early tooth decay.

“For 63 years, Ocala has been providing its citizens with this excellent public health measure and should continue to do so,” the statement concludes.

The association recommends that people consult for more information about community water fluoridation. It also notes that fluoridation levels in Ocala have not been shown to be excessive or to cause any health problems.

In support of fluoride

On its website, the American Dental Association lists five reasons fluoride in water is good for communities:

• Preventing tooth decay: “Community water fluoridation is so effective at preventing tooth decay that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named it one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”

• Protection against cavities: “Studies show that fluoride in community water systems prevents at least 25 percent of tooth decay in children and adults.”

• It’s a safe tool: “For 70 years, the best available scientific evidence consistently indicates that community water fluoridation is safe and effective.”

• Cost effective: “For most cities, every $1 invested in water fluoridation saves $38 in dental treatment costs.”

• It’s natural: “Water fluoridation is the adjustment of fluoride to a recommended level for preventing tooth decay. It’s similar to fortifying other foods and beverages, like fortifying salt with iodine, milk with vitamin D, orange juice with calcium and bread with folic acid.”

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