Pitkin County public health officials are coming out in support of drinking water fluoridation as the deadline for Snowmass Villagers to weigh in on their district’s practice looms.
The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District board voted in July to stop adding fluoride to its drinking water, but many of its customers came out against the decision and the lack of public input behind it. The independent tax district decided to conduct a mail-in survey of its customers to gauge how the community stands on the issue, and the deadline for residents to send in their responses is Thursday.
Pitkin County Director of Public Health Liz Stark said she is concerned about the long-term effects of Snowmass children’s oral health as well as the overall health of residents of all ages in light of the policy change. Dr. Kimberly Levin, an emergency-room physician at Aspen Valley Hospital and an adviser to the county Public Health Department, said studies on the oral and overall health benefits of fluoride at the proper dosage are overwhelming, while those cited by anti-fluoride websites and activists are generally not designed well, not peer-reviewed and unreliable.
“There are a lot of myths, a lot of fears, and there’s a lot of websites now that have bad information,” Levin said.
Levin encouraged residents to look closely at the type of research and the model used when studying the issue, including to make sure the study is referring to levels of fluoride considered optimal, which is now 0.7 parts per million, according to new recommendations the Environmental Protection Agency published this spring.
That was lowered from a previously accepted range of 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million because as more products are providing fluoride, some children in certain communities in the U.S. were experiencing dental fluorosis, a staining of the teeth that Levin called a “cosmetic issue.” Communities with the lower amount of fluoride in their public water, as Snowmass Village already had, still have 25 percent fewer dental caries than those that don’t fluoridate, Levin said. And oral health affects overall health, as poor oral hygiene can lead to or exacerbate other infections, she said.
“We do have a population of people who are low-income,” Stark said. “And oral health is a problem for that population.”
Dental care is expensive, and while the county has a growing number of residents who are eligible for Medicaid, they have to travel to Rifle or Glenwood Springs to find dentists who will accept those plans, Stark said.
Because that population has fewer options within their means for taking care of their children’s oral health, Levin advocates for residents who have greater means and don’t want fluoride in their drinking water to purchase a reverse-osmosis or other removal system for their homes.
“They have a choice,” she said. “There are devices to take fluoride out of your water. … Don’t take it away from people who don’t have the means to make that choice.”
Levin and Stark said neither of them have had any contact with the board of the Snowmass Water District but that they do plan to attend its next meeting when members will review the responses to the survey and revisit their decision this summer.
Responses to a mail-in survey must be postmarked no later than Thursday. While a survey will remain open on the district’s website after that, only responses to the mail-in survey will be tabulated. Those data will be presented to the board at its Oct. 21 regular meeting.
Links to resources, including a video of a panel of experts debating the topic in Denver — Denver Water later decided to continue fluoridating its drinking water — also are available on the district’s website at www.swsd.org.