Newton, Kan. When drawing a glass of water from your sink or filling a pot to cook some food, you might not realize that the water in your glass or in your homemade spaghetti sauce is keeping your teeth healthy.
For the purpose of increasing oral health in communities where people don’t have equal access to dental work, the fluoridation of water (or adding fluoride to the public water supply) is a common practice.
However, Director of Public Works for the City of Newton Suzanne Loomis said the issue is incredibly divided.
“The City received a grant to install the machinery… but there are different views on whether or not [fluoride] should be put in the water supply,” Loomis said.
“I will say, it is very corrosive, it’s very dangerous, the chemical is hazardous, it corrodes everything out there and we have to upgrade the equipment often,” Loomis said, “it costs us anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 a year to keep fluoride in the water.”
According to Senior Analyst and Strategy Team Leader for the Kansas Health Institute, Tatiana Lin, approximately 75 percent of Americans are exposed to fluoridated water.
This is because studies have shown it strengthens tooth enamel and makes the mouth less susceptible to bacteria.
Lin said there has been significant data suggesting that both children and adults in lower-class communities have benefited from fluoridated water.
According to Lin, the research suggesting this comes from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, which has worked with the National Research Council (NRC) and involved researchers in numerous fields of health. The CDC has also included independent researchers in order to keep studies transparent.
While Lin said there are many studies that call attention to links between fluoride and other diseases, she believes most of these studies are inconclusive.
While studies have proven fluoridated water can result in Fluorosis, a condition that leaves white streaks on teeth, Lin said this only effects children eight and under, and is extremely mild in most cases.
Lin concludes that fluoride is only dangerous in concentrated amounts.
As Kansas’ water shows an average two percent fluoridation, Lin believes chances of even mild Fluorosis in children is unlikely.
Executive Director of the Non-Profit Fluoride Action Network and attorney Michael Connett disagrees with the fluoridation of water. He believes studies have not effectively proven it safe that and it might not be necessary at all.
“… based on extensive research done in the 80s and 90s, we now know that Fluoride doesn’t need to be swallowed,” Connett said, “the benefits of fluoride come from topical contact with the teeth. Therefore, any risks that come from swallowing it are unnecessary.”
Aside from occurrences of childhood Fluorosis, Connett claims studies have discovered potential links between fluoride and brain damage, damage to the Endocrine system—including the Thyroid Gland, damage to the Skeletal system, fragile bone tissue, bone cancer and joint pain.
Because fluoride is a toxic substance, Connett is skeptical of what concentration of the chemical could be deemed safe. “Everybody might react to different levels [of Fluoride] differently,” Connett said, “A small dose for one person could be a large and damaging dose for another.”
Connett said dental care for lower-class citizens is indeed a problem, mainly because most dentists will not treat people with Medicaid, but that the millions of dollars put into fluoridation could instead go into employing oral nurses— who could pull teeth or fill cavities more affordably.
“Right now, if you go into many of the poor areas of America,” Connett said “you’ll find these areas have had fluoridated water for decades and the oral health crisis [there] has not been averted.”
From a public works standpoint, Loomis said it results in a lot of mechanical issues and the staff doesn’t like having to put it in at the treatment plant.
Workers are required to put on fully sealed hazardous material suits in order to add it to the public water.