Springfield residents will head to the polls Nov. 6 to decide whether they want to add fluoride to the city water supply.
Those in favor of the move say it will improve oral health in the city and say the limited amount of fluoride added to the water poses no health risks.
Those against adding fluoride to the water say there are other ways for residents to take care of their teeth and the city water should be left alone.
Clark County Combined Health District Commissioner Charles Patterson said he cannot endorse either side of Issue 8, but said the district did endorse the concept of fluoridating the public water supply before the question was posed to voters.
He said the reason for that is because of the poor dental health in Clark County.
“Our surveys show that Clark County has some of the worst oral health (in the state),” Patterson said. “If you look around, people have a lot of oral health issues. It’s an economic development issue and a public health issue.”
Springfield resident Russell Patton said he doesn’t believe adding fluoride to the water is the right thing to do. He said people can obtain fluoride toothpaste and other products easily all around the city and adding it to the water supply is wrong.
The Springfield water supply serves about 22,800 accounts, Service Director Chris Moore said. Should the issue pass in November, the city will need to investigate the number of different ways for the city to implement fluoride into the water supply.
Because there are so many ways to do so, the original cost estimate is between $750,000 to $1.25 million, Moore said. But, the city won’t start investigating how it would add fluoride to the water until after the election.
“We will work through the budget process to allocate the funds to start investigating the implementation, regulatory compliance and conceptual design if it passes,” he said. “We did not feel it was appropriate to spend a lot of money or staff time researching the implementation prior to the vote.”
In 1969, Ohio legislators passed a law requiring fluoridation of public water supplies that serve more than 5,000 people. However Springfield voters approved being exempt from the law later that year. The city was one of the 30 who approved becoming exempt, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Since that time, nine cities, including Bellefontaine, Tipp City and Fairborn, voted to add fluoride to public water systems. The fluoride issue was rejected by Springfield voters in 2005.
Argument for fluoride
Deanna Brougher ran a dental office for her father’s practice for 21 years and said she witnessed Springfield residents — many of them children — suffering from poor oral health.
“We saw a lot of decay and my dad would be sickened by it,” she said. “One simple solution that doesn’t cost a lot, like putting fluoride in city water, could be making such a difference.”
And the decay and oral health problems persist in Springfield today, Brougher said. That’s why she decided to support the ballot issue.
“I’m an advocate for anything that improves the health in our community,” she said.
She believes adding fluoride to the water is an important issue that can be positive for thousands of people who don’t get needed dental care.
“Seventy years of fluoride in the water has proven we can cut decay by 25 percent across all ages,” she said. “There are people who have been raised in communities who have fluoride and they never had dental decay.”
She said those who are worried fluoride can cause health issues if swallowed shouldn’t be because the amount of fluoride that will be added to the water is minimal — just enough to help teeth.
“The only thing that we are doing when we are fluoridating water is bringing it to the optimal level that will help prevent decay,” she said. “Unfortunately, Springfield has never had fluoride in the water and we do have a lot of oral health problems in our community. At the ER, that is one of the most common complaints registered when they visit is oral health pain.”
She said dental visits and toothpaste with fluoride isn’t enough because not everyone in the community has access to that type of dental care.
Many cities in Ohio already fluoridate their water supply, Brougher said, and haven’t seen any negative impact.
“Eighty-five percent of Ohioans have access to fluoride in their water and of the 22 cities that don’t, Springfield is the largest,” Brougher said. “I would say Springfield does not fluoridate because we haven’t done a good enough job of getting the facts out to everybody about the benefits.”
A flyer being handed out by “Citizens Together for Good Health,” a group supporting Issue 8, says every dentist in Springfield supports the issue.
Also, The American Medical Association, the American Dental Association, the Ohio Dental Association, the Center for Disease Control, The World Health Organization all recommend public water systems add fluoride levels at appropriate levels.
Opposition to fluoride
Springfield resident Russell Patton said he was happy to learn the city does not add fluoride to the water when he moved into his home recently.
“I lived around the country in different areas and moved to Springfield, not for this reason, but when I found out there was no fluoride added to the water here, it was one of the best surprises I could have hoped for,” he said. “It’s just one less thing in the water you have to work to get out so that it’s safe to cook with and bathe in and drink.”
He said as soon as he found out there was a movement to add fluoride to the water supply, he began searching for the opposition. He says there isn’t enough evidence directly linking fluoride and healthy teeth for him to vote yes.
Instead, he says regular brushing, visits to the dentist and a decrease in tobacco use are reasons why studies have found improved oral health over the last several decades.
“What we find in the last 80 years is tooth decay and dental issues have gone down in all areas. But, dental hygiene has gone up,” he said. “Fluoride in a lot of ways is taking credit for something it hasn’t really done.”
Fluoride products are readily available, Patton said, so it doesn’t make sense to add it to the water supply when there are residents who don’t want it.
“My big problem with the pro-fluoride movement is that it’s so easy to obtain everywhere else,” Patton said. “You can get fluoride toothpaste at the dollar store, and then you are applying it to your teeth the way it’s supposed to be used. Not ingesting it and having it affect your body.”
Once fluoride is in the water, there is no way to avoid it, he said.
“There are simple solutions like buying bottled water, but it’s also another question of all the dishes that you wash, all the pasta you boil. It just leeches its way into your life,” he said.
Patton said the only reason fluoride would be added to the water is that it could have a health benefit and therefore it is a type of medication. It’s not right that people who haven’t given consent to the medication will be forced to use it, he said.
“If we look at it as the medication of the water, the large number of people who are opposed to it are still going to see fluoride coming into their house. So they have not been able to exercise their consent on their water.”
“I wouldn’t like the only water that comes into my house being medicated in this sense,” he said.
The Springfield News-Sun provides the best public health and election stories in Clark County including stories on health surveys, safe schools and coverage on every election race.
Facts & Figures
Clark County is the third worst county in Ohio for children’s oral health, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Springfield is the largest of the 22 Ohio cities that does not fluoridate water.
The estimated cost of implementing is between $750,000 and $1.25 million, and a final number will be set after the election if Issue 8 passes.