The debate over the use of fluoride in drinking water has been waged many times over the past few decades across the country.
It’s on now in the City of Plattsburgh.
The city is considering the removal of fluoride from its water system, and officials want to hear from both sides of the argument.
“I am certainly not deluded enough to know that this could be a hard sell to the rest of the community,” said Councilor Amy Valentine (D-Ward 5), who wants to eliminate fluoride.
“If we choose to go forward, it’s going to take a lot of public education and time.”
The city has been using fluoride in its water system since 1956. Only the city and the Town of Plattsburgh water systems use fluoride in Clinton County, though Rouses Point did so in the past.
Fluoride was introduced to the country post-World War II as a means of preventing tooth decay.
It has been hailed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the major public health achievements of the 20th century.
There is no shortage of supporters of fluoride as the CDC is joined by the American Dental Association and numerous state and local health departments as its champions.
“It would be a tragedy to lose it,” said John Kanoza of the Clinton County Health Department.
“It cuts the amount of cavities in half.”
Dr. Robert Heins, a local dentist and Clinton County legislator, said the ADA has supported the use of fluoride unwaveringly for 50 years.
“It’s really unfortunate that this debate has come up again, but we can debunk all the arguments against fluoride,” he said.
The amount of fluoride used in the city’s drinking water supply is minimal.
William Todd, the city’s water plant manager for 40 years, said they use one part per 1 million gallons of water.
“We’ve been using fluoride since I’ve been here and we haven’t had any problems with it,” Todd said.
Todd adds the compound to the system through a machine at the water plant on Route 3. It comes in a powder form and is mixed with water to form a fluoride solution.
The solution slowly drips into the two large clear wells at the plant containing 5 million gallons of water.
The fluoride machine is tested three times a day to make sure just the right amount is added.
“I can understand why some towns with smaller water systems don’t use it, because they don’t have somebody to watch it constantly,” Todd said.
The city won a Water Fluoridation Quality award in 2007 from the CDC for its “consistent and professional adjustment of the water fluoride content to the optimal level for oral health for 12 consistent months.”
Nationwide, about 170 million people have access to fluoridated water.
Todd said it costs the city about $13 per day to keep its system fluoridated.
Every dollar spent on fluoridation saves about $38 in avoided dental bills, according to the CDC.
But not everyone is sold on its benefits.
Councilor Valentine, a nurse by profession, keeps up on literature about fluoride. She decided several years ago to have her family stop using fluoridated toothpaste.
“There are a lot of health-related concerns associated with ingesting it,” she said.
Paul Connett, executive director of the Fluoride Action Network in St. Lawrence County, has been working to ban the substance for the past 12 years.
Connett says fluoride, while it may prevent tooth decay, can be dangerous.
There have been 23 studies, many in India and China, he said, that show the use of fluoride could possibly lead to lower intelligence quotients among children.
“There is a growing alarm that in order to stop tooth decay, we may be damaging our children’s brains,” Connett said.
Too much fluoride can also cause dental fluorosis, which is the discoloring and brittling of teeth, studies have shown, including a 2005 CDC study that said as many as 32 percent of American children have some form of fluorosis.
Connett said only about 30 countries in the world use fluoride, and only eight countries provide fluoride to more than 50 percent of their citizens.
“The real way to fight tooth decay is through a better diet and avoiding sugar,” he said.
Connett has a theory on why dentists tout fluoride for prevention of tooth decay among children.
“Dentists don’t want to treat children because they can make more money on adult tooth problems, and kids don’t like to go to the dentist, and they can be a pain,” he said.
Heins, who specializes in children’s dentistry, turns red when he hears Connett’s theory.
“I think he is the one whose IQ has been lowered,” Heins said. “There have been a gazillion studies showing that fluoride is safe. These are just scare tactics.”
Connett is scheduled to speak to the city’s Common Council on fluoride sometime in March.
Heins promises to be there with other dentists to rebut any claims against fluoride.
“I’ll have every dentist on the planet there if I have to,” he said.