FOREST — A local dentist said she was “all smiles” after learning the Bedford Regional Water Authority will resume adding fluoride to Bedford County’s drinking water.
“I couldn’t be happier,” dentist Annie Libbey said Friday. “Fluoridation is one of the 10 greatest public health programs we have and it will be back on track in Bedford County.”
The Bedford Regional Water Authority (BRWA) Board of Directors during its June 18 meeting voted to resume its fluoridation process, which it voted to end in 2017. Water fluoridation is the controlled addition of fluoride to a public water supply. Prior to 2017, Bedford’s central water system was treated with 0.70 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water.
According to BRWA spokesperson Megan Aubrey, the decision to discontinue water fluoridation in 2017 was made when the new pipeline from the water treatment plant in Smith Mountain Lake to the water treatment facility in the town of Bedford was completed because the water system in the southern part of Bedford County was not fluoridated.
“Since the water from the two sources would be mixed, we [BRWA] wanted it to be consistent,” Aubrey said. “Also, mixing the two water sources would have diluted the fluoridated water to a level below 0.70 milligrams per liter. It would have been pointless to continue.”
Libbey — who owns Libbey Family Dentistry, in Forest — has advocated to bring water fluoridation back to Bedford County for the past two years, including speaking to BRWA’s board about the benefits of the program.
“My goal was to convince them that fluoridation was safe, effective and worth the investment,” Libbey said. “Americans have been drinking fluoridated water for more than 65 years and there is overwhelming evidence showing its safety and effectiveness.”
Libbey said fluoridation “drastically” reduces tooth decay in children.
“Studies have shown that it can reduce the average number of decayed, filled or missing teeth by as much as 60%,” Libbey said. “That is a good investment for a community to make in the health of its residents.”
Aubrey said the authority’s board resumed discussion about water fluoridation after the Western Virginia Water Authority (WVWA) received a grant from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to add fluoride in the Westlake Water System in Franklin County, which gets some of its water from the Smith Mountain Lake Water Treatment Plant.
VDH staff discussed adding fluoridation to the Smith Mountain Lake treatment facility and resuming fluoridation at the water treatment facility in Bedford during BRWA’s April and May board meetings, Aubrey said.
“The VDH has been a strong proponent in reintroducing fluoride into our water,” Aubrey said. “The VDH and WVWA brought this issue back to our attention.”
Aubrey said since BRWA purchases some of its water from the city of Lynchburg — which adds fluoride to its water supply — the decision will result in consistency in the area’s water supply.
“We stopped fluoridation because we wanted to be consistent,” Aubrey said. “We are resuming it for the same reason.”
According to information from BRWA’s website, it will cost about $138,000 to get the two water treatment facilities ready to fluoridate the water supply. Annual costs to fluoridate the water in Bedford County will be about $19,000, according to the website. Aubrey said most of the cost will be covered by funding from the VDH.
“The VDH is providing grants to cover the expenses,” she said. “Our customers will not see any water rate increases with this.”
Libbey said even without grant funds, $19,000 per year would be a minimal investment for the health of residents in Bedford County.
“For each dollar invested in this program, about $38 in dental costs will be saved for residents of Bedford County,” Libbey said. “It is one of the most cost-effective things the county could do to help people.”
Aubrey said the authority should resume water fluoridation by early 2020.
“We are looking at being ready in about six to nine months,” Aubrey said. “This is still in its early stages.”