KENNEBUNK – Experts on both sides of the water fluoridation debate squared off in a public forum Monday night, ahead of the referendum vote on Nov. 8 facing residents in seven York County towns.
Residents of Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Wells, Ogunquit, Arundel, Biddeford Pool & Fortune’s Rocks and the Cape Neddick section of York will vote on a referendum question concerning fluoridation of the public drinking water: The wording of the question is mandated by the state and will read “Shall fluoride be added to the public water supply for the intended purpose of reducing tooth decay?”
The Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District serves these communities and since 2004 has been adding fluoride to the water. The Campaign to Reconsider Water Fluoridation, a group of customers of KKWWD, wants to put a stop to the current practice of adding fluoride to the public water supply and collected enough petition signatures to get the question on the November ballot. A public forum sponsored by the Campaign to Reconsider Water Fluoridation and water district was held in August.
Monday night’s forum was sponsored by the group Healthy Teeth, Healthy Smiles, a citizen’s group that supports water fluoridation.
The arguments for and against water fluoridation were presented in an often-heated and impassioned exchange between Dr. Myron Allukian, DDS, MPH, associate professor oral health policy and epidemiology at Harvard University School of Dental Medicine, and former dental director for the City of Boston; and Dr. Bill Osmunson, DDS, director of the Fluoride Action Network, a national organization against fluoridation of water supplies.
Allukian, who served as dental director for the City of Boston for 34 years said he is not “pro fluoride” but rather “pro public health,” and he considers water fluoridation to be one of the greatest successes in public health.
“We worked hard to get fluoridation in Boston. It took us 8 years, and as a result we cut the amount of tooth decay about in half,” Allukian said.
He said the poorer populations do not have access to good medical or dental care, and cannot afford the costly procedures to repair damage from extensive tooth decay. Allukian said more than a dozen state supreme courts have said there’s no issue with the safety of fluoridation, and the federal Food and Drug Administration has not taken a position.
“The problem is you get all sorts of information and it’s confusing. There’s all sorts of ‘junk science’ out there. Who are you going to believe? Are you going to believe your persona dentist and your personal physician, and the American Dental Association?” Allukian asked.
Allukian said the bottom line is that “there’s less pain, less disease and less suffering, and you have a healthier community of adults and children” with fluoridated water.
Osmunson countered Allukian’s claims of ‘junk science’, saying that no science is of the highest quality, and the evidence is incomplete, that’s why it needs to be questioned.
“This dogma that we’ve subscribed to with regard to water fluoridation for the past 50 to 60 years needs to be questioned.”
Also at issue, according to Osmunson is personal choice. Opponents of water fluoridation claim it is “mass medication” and takes away an individual’s choice over fluoride.
“You’re being asked to vote on medicating your neighbor. You’re being asked to take away their freedom,” Osmunson said.
Osmunson said that swallowing too much fluoride is not effective against tooth decay and is unsafe. Both sides of the debate agree that fluoride is effective when applied topically to the teeth, and that there’s no benefit to swallowing it. Those who support water fluoridation say the addition of fluoride to the water allows for this topical application through drinking the water, and the ingestion is harmless.
Norm Labbe, Superintendent of KKWWD, said the district’s board of trustees has come out in support of ceasing the addition of fluoride to the public water supply because it doesn’t support their mission statement.
“Why are we taking this position? We are not a typical utility. Our mission is to provide the highest quality of water to our customers. Adding fluoride does not contribute to water quality, and it doesn’t contribute to our mission,” Labbe said.
Dr. Christina Manning, a pediatrician in Biddeford, said fluoridated water helps her fulfill her mission of keeping the community’s children healthy.
“This issue of water fluoridation is an important one for me. I think that removing fluoridation from our water source is a nail in the coffin for our children’s teeth,” Manning said.
She said the cost of dental care for dental disease is too expensive for most of the families she sees, and children who have decay early on are more likely to have significant health issues as adults.
“It’s not hard to find scare tactics about the caustic effects of fluoride in an internet search, and it may seem like the safer thing is to take it out. But I ask you to take the time to look for the information behind the claims. It can be safely used in appropriate quantities,” Manning said.
The public was invited to ask questions of the panel, though it seemed that most in attendance were already decided on the issue.
Kennebunk resident and father of nine, Bob Stewart asked Dr. Allukian if there were any specific groups of individuals where fluoride is unsafe, or contraindicated.
Allukian said that at the recommended level there are no negative effects to the general population. He said that people with kidney disease who are on dialysis have to have all irons, including fluoride removed from their water.
Stewart said that listening to the presentation, he heard a lot of question marks.
“I know there are many different studies around the world, because real scientists have questions. The concept of consent is the ethical issue too.”
Stewart asked Labbee if he was getting informed consent from all of the people who ingest the fluoride added to the water supply.
“No, of course we aren’t able to do that,” Labbe said.
Allukian countered by saying that “no one is forcing anyone to use the public water supply”.
The Healthy Teeth, Healthy Smiles group says water fluoridation has been proven to get children off to a healthy dental start, and removing it would put a vulnerable part of the population in York County, particularly lower income families, at risk.
For more information on water fluoridation visit the American Dental Association at www.ada.org or www.rethinkingfluoride.com