Susan Augustoni isn’t sure she wants to spend $9,000 filtering fluoride out of the water that comes into her new Superior home. But she’s also nervous not to.
“Can we be absolutely assured that we are not poisoning ourselves?” said Augustoni, a nutritionist. “With all of my research, I have found the answer to be no — the research presents at least a shadow of a doubt. Now I am looking at whole-house filters.”
Recently the Erie Town Board of Trustees took up the fluoride debate, and officials are now planning to turn to the residents for input — with a fluoride survey inserted into residents’ next water bills. Erie, Jamestown, Ward and Lyons are the only places in Boulder County where fluoride in not added to the water supply.
The city of Boulder Environmental Advisory Board also plans to discuss fluoridation at its June 14 meeting.
Fluoride has been added to cities’ water supply systems since 1945 to prevent dental decay. In Colorado, 82 percent of the population has about 1 part per million, or one milligram of fluoride per liter of water, in its water supply.
“It is probably the dental profession’s and our top line of defense against dental decay,” said Diane Brunson, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s director of the oral health program. “It is tremendously successful.”
Brunson said dental decay is a public health issue because some people don’t have access to dentists and decaying teeth can lead to other health problems.
“The national average is 68 percent of the population visits a dentist regularly,” she said. “Of the Medicaid-eligible children, only 23 percent get into the dental office. It becomes a public health responsibility. Fluoride works really well for preventing decay — not having 35-year-olds with teeth in a jar — without regard for socio-economic status.”
Women with dental decay can pass the bacteria to their children in utero, and babies can be born with low birth weight and have a high rate of dental decay, Brunson said.
Too much fluoride — like too much of anything — can be a bad thing, she said.
At about two parts per million, people notice cosmetic effects, such as bright white or brown spots on teeth. For skeletal fluorosis — fluoride build-up on bones — people would need to ingest about 80 to 100 parts per million, Brunson said.
Stephen Koral, a Boulder dentist for 18 years, said fluoride is effective at preventing tooth decay when applied topically, such as when people brush their teeth, but he said some scientific studies show that fluoride ingested in water does not have any effect on teeth. He also said he is concerned about what he said are possible side effects — like brittleness in bones and bone cancers — because people are ingesting more fluoride now than they were in years past.
“It’s not just the amount in the water,” he said. “We get overdosed with fluoride. Any processed foods have a good chance of being processed where there is fluoride in the water. People get a tremendous amount in prepared foods.”
Koral said that about half of the children he treats have white or brown spots on their teeth from fluoride. He said it costs $35 a tooth to grind out a discolored spot, and $690 a tooth if a porcelain veneer needs to be applied.
“There is far more treatment created by getting rid of the spots on teeth than we are theoretically saving by not treating tooth decay,” he said.
Most of the opponents of fluoride in city water argue that giving out fluoride pills would have the same effect on public health but not require people to ingest it.
Kit Cone said the company he works for as service manager, Boulder GNC Water Well, installs one to two reverse osmosis systems a month to filter out fluoride. A recent installation for a very large home cost $20,000, but a system on one sink costs less than $1,000, he said.
It costs between 50 cents and $1.50 per person per year for fluoride to be added to a city water supply system.
“It cost thousands of dollars to install Superior’s fluoride system,” Augustoni said. “We are paying to put it in, and now I have to pay to take it out.”