PALM BAY — Brenda Darras never thought much about fluoride in her drinking water until her children started getting cavities.
Now the Palm Bay mother visits pediatric dentist Raymond Pollock far more often than she wants to get treatment for her 7-year-old daughter, Brittani, and 4-year-old daughter Kayla.
“The first time I was here, they asked me where I lived and I said ‘Palm Bay,’ ” Darras said. “I thought, ‘wait a minute, she brushes and she flosses.’ ”
Pollock and his assistants told Darras that Palm Bay lacks sufficient fluoride in its drinking water. It’s the same message they deliver to all their Palm Bay patients.
But the city’s 22,000 water customers will have more fluoride from their faucets by the end of this year, Palm Bay Utilities Director Dick Jacobs said Tuesday. Water from the city’s treatment plant on Troutman Boulevard naturally contains 0.1 to 0.2 parts per million. Fluoride is not required in municipal water systems, but the federal government and the American Water Works Association recommend 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million.
Now the city plans to inject the recommended concentration of fluoride into the water. The city has obtained $79,000 in grant money to design and build a fluoride injection system.
“That should make the dentists happy,” City Manager Bob Nanni said.
It elates Pollock, who has led a bit of a crusade with the Palm Bay City Council to get more fluoride into city water.
“I personally have battled this for years,” he said.
Most cavities are found between teeth, so they’re hard to find, he said. “That’s why the kids get so many toothaches,” Pollock said. Palm Bay children get cavities more often than those from other cities that Pollock treats.
Children from lower-income families are at higher risk of tooth decay from lack of fluoride, experts say.
In 1995, Palm Bay was prepared to increase the fluoride levels in its drinking water supply, despite some residents’ protests. The city got a $29,000 grant, but that wasn’t enough to build the pump system required to get fluoride in the system, Jacobs said. Since then, the city has been negotiating with the state to get more grant money, and now it has funds for fluoride, he said.
Fluoride has generated some controversy over the years. The major recognized benefit of fluoridated drinking water is dental health. The potential risks include acute toxicity, bone fractures and cancer — at high levels.
Health advisories are sometimes issued when fluoride is added to water to alert pregnant women, parents of children under 3 and individuals with known fluoride sensitivity.
But state health officials defend municipal fluoridation as the easiest way to reach a lot of people, especially poor children who cannot afford routine dental care.
About 70 percent of Florida’s municipal water systems use fluoridation.
Brenda Cadieu, a Palm Bay water customer, takes her water for granted.
“I just expect it to be healthy,” said Cadieu, the mother of 5-year-old Garrett.
Since fluoride was introduced to municipal drinking water supplies in 1945, more than 62 percent of Americans now live in areas served by fluoridated water. That type of water is a safe, economical and effective measure to prevent cavities, according to a 1996 statement from the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Last year, for the first time, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office issued a report on oral health. More than 25 percent of kindergartners have decayed teeth, and by the age of 17, more than 70 percent have dental decay, the report said.