A quick look

  • The issue: The Russellville Water Board wants to remove fluoride from the city’s water system.
  • What’s new: Four Russellville dentists have voiced objection to the proposal, saying fluoride helps strengthen teeth.
  • What’s next: The Russellville Water Board will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday to discuss the issue.

The Russellville Water Board’s plan to stop adding fluoride to the city’s water supply has upset several Russellville dentists who argue the chemical helps strengthen children’s developing teeth.

Even though Russellville has used fluoride in the water treatment process since 1963, the water board manager contends the health effects of fluoride are still unknown.

Water board members will meet Tuesday to discuss the issue and determine how to proceed.

“If you’re raised on fluoridated water, your teeth are prettier and your teeth are shinier,” Dr. Steven Hammack told city council members during their last work session.

Hammack and three other local dentists wrote a letter to the city that urges the continuation of adding fluoride to the city’s water.

“Fluoride makes the enamel on our teeth strong to fight against cavities,” the letter dated Dec. 1 states. “It also helps prevent gingivitis, builds increasing protection against tooth sensitivity and helps control plaque bacteria.”

Hammack cited studies concluding that without fluoride, children would have 27 percent more cavities.

The dentists argue the required dental care that would result in fluoride no longer being in the water would funnel $600,000 in purchasing power away from the city’s tax base. That’s what they estimate as the cost of increased visits to dentist offices.

The British Fluoridation Society explains in a report that the outer coat of the tooth, which is known as enamel, is susceptible to acids caused by bacteria that live on your teeth. Sugar feeds the bacteria, which then create more acid and attack the enamel more. By ingesting fluoride, the enamel coating becomes more resistant to the acid and the chemical improves the enamel quality as the tooth repairs itself.

Doug Clement, manager of the Russellville Water Board, argues the overall health effects of fluoride are still unknown. He cited a 2006 study from the National Research Council that concluded the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for fluoride in drinking water was unsafe and should be lowered.

“It does make teeth harder, but I don’t think people looked any deeper into it,” Clement said. “There are reasons people want to red flag fluoridated water.”

The Fluoride Action Network, an international coalition of 1,991 dentists, environmentalists, scientists and doctors, seeks to abolish fluoride in the public drinking water supply.

“We call upon all medical and dental professionals, members of water departments, local officials, public health organizations, environmental groups and the media to examine for themselves the new documentation that fluoridated water is ineffective and poses serious health risks,” the group stated in its bid to end fluoridation.

Studies they cite suggest when fluoride is ingested, the chemical lowers IQs in children and can cause damage to developing brains and teeth. The studies also state long-term exposure can damage bones and is linked to bladder cancer.

In a letter dated Sept. 24, Clement wrote that the reason for stopping the use of fluoride “was due to the decreasing availability of the product and production problems regarding consistent quality and quantity from the suppliers.”

Hammack presented the letter at the city council work session Dec. 1.

Fluoridated water is the norm across the Shoals and is added to water systems in Colbert County, Leighton, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Florence, said Jamey Congleton, regional environmental director for the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Red Bay has had a history of starts and stops in fluoridation and stopped adding the chemical to the town’s water in July, Congleton said.

Clement said the city annually spends between $25,000 and $30,000 on fluoride.

Hammack estimates that every dollar invested in fluoride results in $40 in dental bill savings.

“I believe the fluoride should stay in the water,” said Russellville Mayor Troy Oliver, who attended the council work session. “Based on what I heard, I think it’s well worth the investment.”