Pinellas County voted to discontinue fluoridating its water supply last week. The addition of fluoride to public water systems was adopted by the U.S. Public Health Service as an official policy in 1950 to reduce cavities and promote oral health.
The U.S. largely has been fluoridating water for the past six decades, though many cities and counties have either discontinued the practice or never adopted to begin with. According to the Fluoride Action Network, Pinellas is not the only Florida locale where there is no fluoridation – Palm Beach County, Martin County, Pasco County, Largo, Clearwater, North Redington Beach, Winter Springs, and Boca Raton also don’t fluoridate their water. However, the practice is a good one because it provides benefits to oral care, even in rich countries, and concerns about its safety are exaggerated.
Pinellas County’s decision to stop water fluoridation ended a seven-year experiment. The result was decided in a 4-3 vote by the Pinellas County Commission, according to the St. Petersburg Times. When it was last brought up in 2003, the commission voted 6-1 for fluoridation. This time around, one commissioner, John Morroni, changed his mind and voted against. According to the Times, other commissioners are hoping Morroni votes for the status quo when the issue is revisited Tuesday.
It is unfortunate that the commission voted against renewing fluoridation. According to the Fluoride Information Network, fluoridated water has been shown to reduce tooth decay in children by 30 to 40 percent. It also provides benefits during development, as well as promoting healthier teeth in the elderly and those who neglect to brush their teeth regularly.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that “for larger communities of more than 20,000 people where it costs about 50 cents per person to fluoridate the water, every $1 invested in this preventive measure yields approximately $38 savings in dental treatment costs.”
For some, this is not enough. Concerns of personal freedom, dental fluorosis in children (white spots on teeth) and putting “toxic substances” in drinking water are reasons for ending fluoridation, according to the Fluoride Action Network.
The Fluoride Information Network, supporting fluoride, dismisses this evidence because the studies involved have “exposure levels way above that possible at 1.0 ppm (parts per million) dilution of fluoridated water,” as well as “not (being) from reputable peer-reviewed journals and (the studies) are not obtainable through a medical or dental library.”
The level of fluoride in water varies across the country, but rarely is it above 1.0 ppm unless there is additional chemical pollution. Fluoride in high levels can be toxic, but that is why fluoride concentration is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The concerns about fluoridating water are largely exaggerated. Only when it is implemented poorly or there are mitigating environmental concerns do problems occur, and Pinellas County is mistaken in abandoning it.