Water is important for overall health but some people might not like the additives in it.
Advocates say fluoride in the water system can prevent tooth decay. Opponents say it isn’t needed and can do more harm than good.
“It’s an easy way to get medicine to a large amount of people and population and a very economical way of doing so,” Jack A. Lawrence, associate dentist at Boran Dental Associates, Minersville, said Friday.
On the other hand, Carol Kopf, media relations director for the Fluoride Action Network, New York, said Friday the real problem is dental care, especially for the economically disadvantaged.
“Rotten diets make rotten teeth, and there’s no amount of fluoride that can change that. The problem in this country is untreated tooth decay,” she said.
Fluoridation came to the forefront in Schuylkill Haven after the borough council voted Feb. 5 to add it to its water supply.
An application for a permit must be submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection for review and approval, Colleen Connolly, northeast regional spokeswoman for DEP, said Tuesday, adding that it has not been done yet.
Kevin Butz, chief operator for the water treatment plant in the borough, said the borough used hydrofluorosilicic acid in the drinking water. The acid is “a transparent colorless aqueous solution that is used in a variety of applications,” according to the website www.mosaicco.com.
One of those applications is as fluoride in drinking water.
Water fluoridation started in 1945 in Grand Rapids, Mich. Schuylkill Haven previously had fluoride in its water supply, but it was eliminated in 2011 to save the borough about $10,000 a year, council President Marlin Berger Jr. said at the time.
“They were the only ones that fluoridated up until 2011” in the county, Connolly said. Currently, there are no municipalities in the county that have fluoride in the water supply. DEP regulates about 40 community water systems in the county.
“If you are a community water system you have to be regulated with DEP,” Connolly said.
Statewide, 115 Community Water Systems were fluoridated in 2011, according to the most recent information from the Bureau of Safe Drinking Water, a branch of DEP.
Robert Kempes, a dentist in Schuylkill Haven since 1973, is in favor of adding fluoride to the water supply.
“I just feel it’s a safe and effective way to help kids’ teeth,” he said last week.
“Fluoride is most effective when the tooth is actually developing because fluoride is capable of integrating into the tooth structure,” Lawrence said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “almost all water contains some naturally occurring fluoride at levels too low to prevent tooth decay.”
Adding fluoride to the water supply is “safe and effective,” according to the organization.
About 74 percent of the U.S. population has access to fluoridated water, according to the CDC.
In Pennsylvania, 54 percent of residents receive fluoridated water.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is charged with setting enforceable maximum levels for fluoride, though states can set tougher limits. The maximum level is 4 parts per million. A secondary, nonenforceable level of 2 parts per million, which seeks to prevent cosmetic changes such as those to teeth, has also been established by the EPA.
To prevent tooth decay, the optimal level of fluoride added to the water supply should be at 0.7 milligrams per liter, as proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services. It was a decrease from the range of 0.7 to 1.2 to reduce the potential for teeth discoloration and an effective level at preventing tooth decay.
Too much fluoride can be a bad thing. For example, it can cause dental fluorosis, a discoloring of the teeth. However, this only affects children 8 and under because their teeth are still forming, according to the CDC.
Numerous government agencies support the use of fluoride in drinking water, such as American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Fluoride is most commonly known to be in water, toothpaste and mouthwash, but it can also be in food and drinks such as tea.
The CDC said the treated water can be used in infant formula. However, fluorosis may occur depending on the amount.
Kopf said people should have a choice in consuming fluoride. She said one issue is that some people are allergic.
“It’s a controversial issue. There’s no doubt about it,” Kempes said.