Water without fluoride opens a child’s mouth to tooth decay during the developmental stage and could cause problems through adulthood.
Decatur Utilities feeds the water with it daily, but recently there were missed periods.
“There’s been a supply shortage across the United States,” said Tom Cleveland, plant and engineering manager. “When we do have problems with the supply we contact the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the Alabama Department of Public Health. They are aware of the shortage.”
Dentists say it’s important for parents to know when water is without fluoride.
“It would have been nice to have known about it so we could have told the parents they needed to have additional fluoride for their children’s dental health,” said Dr. Robert McDaniel. “When fluoride in water is absorbed into the body it is incorporated into the teeth during development.”
Cleveland said the shortage began in June 2007. The longest gap was from Oct. 30, 2007, to June 2 of this year. Then, from June 17 to June 24 the water was without fluoride.
Dr. Patrick Stanley, a children’s dentist in Decatur, said fluoride is the key ingredient for children 8 and under.
“Children without it will have cavities five or six times more than a child with it,” Stanley said. “Cavities are considered a disease. Fluoride is the No. 1 ingredient that helps cure dental disease.”
Eight months may cause dental problems, but not tooth loss.
“I don’t know if anybody’s teeth are going to fall out if they don’t have it, but it surely does help to have it,” said Dr. Jonathan South.
“The importance of fluoride is twofold: The formation of teeth while they are developing and the surface after they’ve erupted. While developing, teeth need fluoride to help strengthen enamel and make them more resistant to decay.”
McDaniel, whose patients are primarily adults, said it’s obvious in patients who had fluoride as children and those who did not.
“There’s a world of difference from one community to another,” McDaniel explained. “You can tell teeth of adults who had fluoridated water as children. Those who didn’t usually have a lot more problems. Fluoride has almost no benefit for erupted (permanent) teeth. It is for teeth in development.”
Water fluoridation is not mandated by law.
“There are no local, state or federal requirements for us to feed fluoride,” said Cleveland. “We do it as a public service.
He said the daily amount is from 8.0 to 1.2 milligrams per liter. Each fluoride order is 6,000 gallons, Cleveland said.
“We try to stay right at a 1.0 level,” Cleveland said.
In addition to fluoride, genetic and dental hygiene factors play a role in tooth decay and disease, McDaniel said.
When dentists know that patients are not getting fluoride in water, they take other measures.
“A dental provider can administer fluoride tablets or rinses as supplements,” said South.
Also, too much fluoride could cause problems.
“Too much of a good thing is bad,” said Stanley. “You have to give the right amount or it could have a negative effect such as teeth discoloration.”
Parts of rural Morgan and Lawrence counties no longer have fluoridation.
“We had it from the time the water treatment plant was built in 1996 until December of 2006,” said Stanley Self, manager of the plant, which is under West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority.
Self said the shortage of fluoride had started and ADEM gave them permission to stop feeding.
The Moulton Water Department fluoridates its water, according to Daniel Jenkins, manager of the wastewater treatment plant.
Jenkins said they have experienced the fluoride shortage, but they have the chemical now.
Cleveland said he understands the dentists’ concern and public notice would not be a problem if there’s another fluoride shortage.
“I don’t know why we wouldn’t,” Cleveland said.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fluoride shortages derive from difficulties in obtaining raw materials to produce the chemical.
Shortages may also come about during inclement weather. Other causes have been insufficient limestone apatite ore quality with lower fluoride yields and laboratory disputes involving the transportation industry, according to the center.
Recent information the Atlanta-based center received suggests more severe shortages could occur in the coming winter.