OUR POSITION: Fluoridation may not be the right solution for Punta Gorda, but we’re glad to see the issue being discussed.
When the Punta Gorda City Council was asked by some local dentists to consider adding fluoride to its water supply, we suspect many people had the same reaction: “It doesn’t already?”
Demographics partly explain the reaction. Punta Gorda’s population skews older and many residents came here from northern states where fluoridation debates were long-ago settled and fluoridation implemented.
Even in Florida, a large majority of communities add fluoride to drinking water. According to the Florida Department of Health, three out of four residents get fluoridated water from community water systems. Charlotte County and Punta Gorda are in a growing minority of non-fluoridated communities. Since 1980 when community development block grants became available to install fluoridation systems, the percentage of resident receiving fluoridated water spiked from 20 percent to 77.9 percent, according to a DOH report titled, “The Fluoridation Project in 2008.”
Fluoridation of public water supplies stirs passions wherever it is proposed and in the Internet Age factual information is often mixed with unfounded claims, conspiracy theories and intentional distortion. In fact, during a Punta Gorda utility advisory board discussion about the issue, fluoridated drinking water was casually linked with a type of cancer called osteosarcoma. But recent studies in the United State, Great Britain and Australia, all of which have extensive public fluoridation projects, found no such link exists. In a 1990 study that found a link between fluoride and cancer, researchers gave rats large doses of fluoridated water for two years, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The U.S. Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Dental Association all endorse fluoridation of public drinking water. Decades of research show that fluoridation not only reduces the number of cavities among children and adults, but that the cost of fluoridation is offset by savings directly attributable to improved dental health. Does that mean the Punta Gorda City Council should simply say yes and start dumping fluoride in its treatment tanks? Of course not.
The City Council correctly directed staff to hire a fluoridation consultant to gauge costs and potential funding opportunities. It would behoove the Charlotte County Commission to direct County Administrator Roger Baltz to keep a close eye on the resulting report. In fact, we don’t see why the commission (and the Englewood Water District board, for that matter) wouldn’t agree to share costs and get a report covering fluoridation countywide.
Because of the widespread adoption of fluoridation, reliable cost estimates are already available. Nationwide the yearly per capita cost of adding fluoride to drinking water is about 92 cents, according to the CDC. But such averages include large-scale utilities, so a specific estimate for the city and/or county is needed.
Fluoridation may not be the answer for Punta Gorda. Its residents’ dental health needs may be better met in other ways, including through public outreach and education efforts. But it is long past time for the issue to be addressed.