CANTON – About 50 critics and advocates of a fluoridated water system packed the municipal building Thursday to try to persuade the Canton village Board of Trustees to adopt their position.
The board is scheduled to vote Monday on whether the village will resume fluoridation, but a decision may be delayed because trustees David P. Curry and Donna S. Williamson did not attend the hearing and may need more information, Mayor Robert N. Wells Jr. said.
The village has fluoridated the water system since the late 1970s, but stopped while it worked on finding new water sources on Waterman Hill.
“This was merely a result of the construction that was being done on the water system,” Mr. Wells said.
New equipment is set up to dispense fluoride if the board looks favorably upon its use. But opponents of fluoride hope that won’t happen.
“I don’t envy your position,” St. Lawrence University chemistry professor Paul H. Connett told the village board. “You didn’t expect to be in charge of medicating us.”
Fluoride has been added routinely to municipal water systems throughout much of the United States for 50 years. It is endorsed by many organizations, including the American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control as a community health benefit that helps prevent tooth decay.
But its use also has come under fire. Mr. Connett has researched the health hazards of fluoride for more than six years and believes it can make bones brittle and contribute to other health problems while offering a benefit that can better be addressed by topical application to teeth.
“If you want fluoride, it’s out there,” he said. “It’s there in the form of toothpaste.”
Mr. Connett turned over a petition with more than 100 signatures he said were from SLU faculty and staff opposing the use of fluoride. Another petition signed by 280 SLU students against fluoride also was turned over to trustees.
Mr. Connett brought Dr. Hardy Limeback, head of preventive dentistry at the University of Toronto, to strengthen his position.
A former defender of fluoride, Dr. Limeback said he changed his mind some years back after he realized fluoride’s action in bones. He cited a study that compared the composition of hip bones in Toronto, which has fluoridated since 1963, and Montreal, which doesn’t fluoridate its water. The hip bones from Toronto contained twice as much fluoride as those from Montreal.
“It makes the teeth brittle as well,” Dr. Limeback said. “I had basically trusted the public health dentists. Fluoride today has very little benefit.”
It’s hard to know what to think with so many studies contradicting each other, said Dr. Mark L. Franke, president of the St. Lawrence County Dental Society.
“It may come down to who you believe in and who you trust,” he said. “Fluoride in any form is not a panacea. Fluoridation of the village of Canton will not end decay.”
Whether fluoride is safe wasn’t a question that could be answered reliably at the hearing, said Bruce W. Stone, an engineer with the state Department of Health. But he found it hard to believe that organizations like the CDC entrusted with the public well-being would ignore health dangers if it thought them credible.
A decision based on scientific research probably can’t be made in a matter of days, said Dr. Bryan B.D. Francey, who practices dentistry with Dr. Mark Moreau on Park Street.
“I do believe fluoride is most effective topically,” Dr. Francey said.
Canton resident Edmund G. Russell Jr. noted that his children have nearly perfect teeth while his mouth is full of fillings, crowns and caps because he grew up without the benefits of fluoride.
“There is ample evidence it is beneficial,” he said. “My children do not have the problems I have. I would like you to weigh that in your consideration.”
The evidence isn’t clear-cut, said Canton resident Jennifer C. Fanning.
“I find it difficult to make a determination one way or another,” she said.
But with three young children, the possibility of health problems for them later in life is more important than any short-term benefit to their teeth, Ms. Fanning said.
“A cavity is not my biggest concern,” she said.
Regardless of the risks or benefits of fluoride, the overriding question may be whether the general public should have to drink water that contains a substance they wish to avoid, said Alan M. Schwartz, an environmental studies professor at SLU.
“I really think it’s unethical to give that risk to people who don’t want it,” he said.