To fluoride or not to fluoride? That is a question the Stockton Board of Aldermen will consider at its meeting Monday night, Jan. 27.
Like many other cities across the country, Stockton has been adding fluoride to its public water supply since the 1970s.
Studies that began in 1945 have shown that fluoride helps prevent tooth decay, especially among children, and today, nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population has access to fluoridated water. Opponents say fluoridation causes health problems and potentially is dangerous.
Stockton’s aldermen have discussed the possibility of ceasing fluoridation at its last two meetings. Former mayor Tom Short told the board he had checked with several other towns in the area and learned that few add fluoride to their water supplies. He added that most were surprised to hear Stockton was still fluoridating.
In its deliberations, the board has considered that fluoride treatments are available to Stockton R-1 students, with their parents’ written permission.
Robin Morris, school nurse, said the “swish-and-spit” treatments are provided by the Missouri Department of Health at no cost and are offered once a week to students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Ideally, she said, a child receives 36 treatments during the school year.
Morris said she believes that if the city discontinues fluoridation, children will not receive adequate fluoride protection. While she did not have an exact count on the number of children served at school, she said some do not receive those treatments because parents are concerned about health issues, children don’t take the treatments because they don’t like the taste of the fluoride or permission forms simply don’t get returned.
Local dentist Neale Johnson said that as long as the fluoride is administered in proper concentrations, “there virtually are no negatives” to fluoridation, and he strongly supports its continuation.
“This is about all the help some of these kids are getting,” Johnson said. While all water contains some fluoride, not all is infused naturally to a level high enough to prevent cavities. Cities that have elected to fluoridate, adjust the level of fluoride in their supplies up to 1 part per million, the level recommended by federal guidelines. Ian Hafer, Stockton city water supervisor, said the fluoride solution that goes into the Stockton water system is not pure fluoride, but contains 25 percent fluoride and 75 percent other ingredients.
In undiluted form, Hafer added, fluoride is considered a hazardous material, and in 1995, the city experienced a case of overfluoridation due to human error. Each time a new drum of fluoride solution is started into the system, the pump must be turned up to 100 percent until air is cleared from the lines, then turned back to the normal 9 percent flow. If left at 100 percent, too much fluoride goes into the water supply, which is what happened in the 1995 incident.
Although he was not a city employee at the time, Hafer said reports show the Department of Natural Resources issued a do-not-drink order for a day while the city opened water hydrants to flush the lines and drop the fluoride level to an acceptable amount. He said anything over 4 parts per million is considered dangerous to drink, and the levels were over that.
Hafer said he does not know what effects drinking over-fluoridated water would have on humans.
Hafer said terminating fluoridation would save the city about $1,200 a year, including the cost of the fluoride solution and testing supplies. Testing is done every day, seven days a week.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports fluoridation, and U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher recently issued a statement in favor of the action, calling fluoridation “the cornerstone of caries (dental cavity) prevention in the United States.”
Satcher’s statement said that more than 50 years of research has found that people living in communities with fluoridated water have healthier teeth and fewer cavities than those living where the water is not fluoridated.
“Fluoridation is the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay and improve oral health over a lifetime, for both children and adults,” Satcher said.
Opponents of fluoridation say the positive effects of fluoridation have been exaggerated, and that the presence of fluoride available in today’s dental products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash, and the practice of offering regular fluoride treatments to school children eliminate the need for community fluoridation. Individuals also are exposed to fluoride in foods and beverages processed with fluoridated water, air pollution from fluoride-emitting industries, pesticide residues and vitamins, they contend.
Some also claim fluoride can contribute to health problems such as Alzheimer’s Disease, skeletal fluorosis (a crippling bone disease), hypothyroidism, hormonal disruptions and hip fractures. Some evidence, they say, also suggests fluoride causes bone cancer in male rats and perhaps in young men and interferes with brain function in young animals and children, reducing IQ.
The CDC continues to maintain that fluoridation is safe. On its Web site, the CDC says: “The overall value and safety of community water fluoridation has been endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2001, by the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health in 2000, and by the U.S. Task Froce on Community Preventive Services in 2001. Community water fluoridation also has been endorsed by numerous public health and professional organizations, such as the American Dental Assocation, the American Medical Association, the American Association of Public Health, U.S. Public Health Service and the World Health Organization.”