An old debate over whether to protect the teeth of youngsters in the community from decay has unfortunately resurfaced in Watertown. The city began adding fluoride to the water in 1961 after a contentious debate that had lasted a decade.

While the council debated the merits of using fluoride in the water to harden teeth to reduce the incidence of tooth decay, students in the city’s elementary schools went to their dental hygienist to have their teeth swabbed with a fluoride solution. The metallic taste lingers in many memories now so many years later. Others remember parents putting fluoride tablets in their drinking water containers. All done to promote dental hygiene and reduce the incidence of tooth decay and lifelong dental problems. And many adults today have healthy teeth thanks to these efforts.

The state Department of Health in 1960 studied 1,229 Watertown children age 6 to 12 to track the incidence of dental caries, the bacteria which causes tooth decay. Then in 1972 the study was conducted again.

The results were significant. In the 12-year period fluoride was added to the water, the incidence of the bacteria caries declined meaningfully, especially in youngsters who had lived continually in the city over the years. The number of youngsters with no decay rose dramatically.

The record of the benefits of fluoride in the water is clear. Dental health improves. However, there are many who argue that there is a public health risk associated with fluoride in the water. Retired St. Lawrence University professor Paul H. Connett argues that fluoride accumulates in soft tissues and bones, where it can cause crippling disease and higher incidents of fracture.

Mr. Connett has carried his crusade against fluoride in the water across the country, most recently to Syracuse.

Despite these academic arguments by well-meaning college professors, public health has benefited from fluoride in the water. Teeth are easier to care for and poor dental health disables fewer people every year.

The City Council decision more than 50 years ago has positively impacted generations of city water users. There is no justification for a change in direction. The last thing anyone who enjoys strong teeth as a consequence of drinking city water wants to see is their grandchildren plagued with tooth decay because the city turned its back on years of evidence that prove fluoride is a significant, healthy benefit for everyone.