As Topsfield’s Special Town Meeting on fluoridation nears on September 30th, the debate surrounding the issue is heating up.

Following a citizen petition started by resident Jeffy Demeter to remove fluoride from the town water supply, local dentists are coming out strongly against removal of the fluoride. Almost 20 medical professionals, mostly dentists, who live or work in Topsfield have met to discuss the September 30 Special Town Meeting and its potential consequences. Their fear, said retired dentist Tom Grady of Topsfield, is that residents will vote to remove fluoride from the water, an action that they believe would be detrimental to the health of everyone in town.

“Fluoride is such a great public health benefit,” Grady said. “One of the greatest that’s come along in terms of benefit to the general public. It’s a no-brainer.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention currently recognizes fluoridated drinking water as one of the “10 great public health achievements of the 20th century,” and Grady said this is for a good reason.

Dentists stand up for fluoridation

Grady remembers the problems that tooth decay caused before fluoride was widely used in water, he said. He was a dentist in Topsfield for 42 years, and said that “people used to get six or eight cavities every six months.”

“We didn’t know how to control decay,” he said, “and then fluoride came along and eliminated decay to a great extent.”

He also believes that these tooth decay problems will return over time if Topsfield does remove fluoride from the water supply.

“The consequence is decay, the return of decay,” Grady said. “There are some towns in Massachusetts that don’t have fluoridated public water, like Methuen, and the decay rate is higher there.”

Another dentist concerned about Topsfield’s possible defluoridation, John Fisher of Salem, cited several national medical organizations that stand behind fluoridated water as a vital public health measure.

Fisher mentioned that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is a particularly good source of information on fluoridation myths and facts.

The AAP website addresses several of the arguments against fluoridation, some of which were arguments made by Demeter in her push to schedule a Special Town Meeting on the issue.

Demeter had previously said that sodium fluoride, the type of fluoride added to Topsfield’s water supply, is a toxic byproduct of Chinese and Japanese aluminum industries and is linked to health problems like thyroid disease, bone cancer, and arthritis.

In response to the claim about bone cancer, the AAP website cites a 2011 Harvard study that found no link between fluoride and bone cancer.

“This study reviewed hundreds of bone samples,” the AAP said, “and the study’s design was approved by the National Cancer Institute.”

In response to Demeter’s statement that fluoride is like a drug the public is forced to ingest, the AAP website noted that fluoride is not a medication, but a nutrient, similar to iodine added to salt or folic acid added to bread.

Toxic effects?

According to Demeter, one of the biggest problems with fluoride in the public water supply is the unknown amount that can vary from place to place.

Topsfield Health Agent John Coulon acknowledged that certain amounts of fluoride can be harmful, but said “it differs depending on the individual and the level of exposure.”

As of 2011, federal health officials recommended an optimal fluoride level of .7 parts per million.

But, “the objection is chronic exposure unknowingly,” Coulon said. “You cannot count on how much you’re getting when you go from one municipality to another.”

Demeter noted multiple times that, “fluoride is a known toxic chemical, and the FDA classifies it as an unapproved drug.” Fluoridated water has never been approved for safety or effectiveness by the FDA or the EPA,” she said.

Despite the lack of FDA approval, the state Department of Health stated in 2010 that “there is no public safety concern about fluoridation in Massachusetts.”

Grady expressed frustration that Demeter has put forth information that might make Topsfield residents think there is a public safety concern.

“She has a right to do this,” he said, “but the literature is all bogus.”

The fluoridation opponents, he said, “are costing the town $2,000 for a Special Town Meeting, and they’re getting their own small group of people to come, it’s not representative of the town,” worries Grady.

He said that the people against fluoridation don’t represent the thoughts of health professionals, and that he hopes Topsfield residents realize this.

“I’ve seen the transition and the effects of fluoride,” he said, “and there’s always people who are going to oppose things.”

To residents who want to continue fluoridation, he added, “it’s your responsibility to go to town meeting.”