Waterloo area dentist Andrew Nothem is publicly questioning the Waterloo Common Council’s decision to pull back on treating the city’s water supply with fluoride. He plans to speak during public comment at a council meeting this Thursday, June 16, which starts at 7 p.m.
Nothem’s concern came from an April 21 common council decision to allow the city’s public works department to discontinue putting fluoride in the water. As the city runs out of its current stock of fluoride, it will not replenish it.
Utilities Superintendent Barry Sorenson said that if the city were to continue treating the water with fluoride, it would have to build extra rooms for its wells to store it, because the city also stores its chlorine in outbuildings near the wells. Fluoride and chlorine become a poisonous gas if mixed together.
The choice to forgo fluoride would eliminate the costs to the city of adding storage rooms, and purchasing the chemical. The city staggers maintenance on each well over the course of 10 years to spread out costs. Sorenson estimated that the city could have a $400,000 cost savings in the next round of well upgrades by not having to build the extra rooms.
Regulations on the amount of fluoride used in water systems also played a part in the decision, Sorenson said, after the Department of Natural Resources restricted the use from 1.1 parts per million to .07 parts per million.
“It makes you worry a bit when they start realizing that you were given 1.1 part per million for the last 30 years and now they suddenly think that is too high,” Sorenson said.
Sorenson also reported that corrosion occurred in windows in the city’s well as a result of storing fluoride.
Nothem, a dentist at Waterloo Family Dental, criticized the decision because of fluoride’s ability to reduce tooth decay and strengthen teeth.
“There is data supporting fluoride that is helpful, more for kids and not as much for adults. But, for kids particularly whose teeth are growing it is helpful, particularly for those who don’t have regular access to dental care,” Nothem said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that if children drink water from a community water system that is fluoridated at what is considered an optimal level and parents follow instructions for brushing children’s teeth, then children are receiving the right amount of fluoride to prevent decay.
According to the CDC, “community water fluoridation has been identified as the most cost-effective method of delivering fluoride, reducing tooth decay by 25% in both adults and children. It also states that for children younger than 8 years old, fluoride helps strengthen developing permanent teeth. For adults, fluoridated drinking water supports tooth enamel, and keeps teeth strong and healthy. It also leads to fewer cavities, less severe cavities, less need for fillings or removing teeth and less pain or suffering because of tooth decay.”
Tooth decay happens when certain bacteria develops in the mouth. When a person eats sugar or refined carbohydrates, bacteria produces acid that removes minerals from the surface of teeth. Fluoride helps to remineralize tooth surfaces and prevents cavities from forming.
“Ultimately, in some ways it’ll drive up business if there isn’t fluoride in the water,” Nothem said. “But, it is much cheaper for a community to pay costs for fluoridation than it is to cover dental bills.”
Fluoride is a mineral that is created naturally and is released from rocks into soil, water and air. According to the CDC, most water has fluoride, but usually not enough to prevent tooth decay, which led to fluoridation being more popular among state and local officials as early as 1945.
As the popularity of water filters and bottled water continues to grow, the fluoride consumption may go down regardless of fluoridation. The CDC says not all bottled water is fluoridated with water. Consumers need to check labels to confirm whether or not bottled water contains fluoride. Bottled water may be treated several different ways that typically remove minerals, like fluoride, out of water.
Nothem said water with fluoride would likely have the most impact on those with lower incomes because they would be less likely to buy filters or bottled water.