Fluoride in tap water: Benefit or danger?
How best to describe fluoride in Fredericksburg’s tap water?
Is it “industrial waste” and “toxins” that pose a public health danger and could lower children’s IQs?
Or is it proven over decades to substantially decrease tooth decay and save $38 in dental care costs for every $1 spent?
The Nov. 5 election ballot features a proposed charter amendment asking city voters to decide if Fredericksburg will continue to add fluoride to public water.
A “yes” vote would prohibit adding fluoride, which generally doubles the amount of fluoride naturally found in local water.
A “no” vote continues the current practice of increasing fluoride levels to .7 parts per million (PPM).
Naturally, groundwater delivered to Fredericksburg taps already has fluoride at a level about half that amount, around .3 PPM.
Arrayed on the “no” side are all local dentists and leading medical and dental organizations, such as the American Dental Association (ADA).
Advocating for “yes” votes is “Clean Water Fred,” a citizens’ group that led the petition drive to get the question on the ballot.
“For me, (fluoride) affects so many people adversely, including me,” said Jeannette Hormuth, Clean Water Fred’s press coordinator. “I don’t want this. This is highly toxic and to put it in deliberately doesn’t seem like a very smart thing to do.”
Dr. Thomas Schmidt, a Fredericksburg dentist for 45 years, strongly disagrees. Schmidt said the tiny amount of fluoride used is beneficial, not harmful. He likened it to adding a cup of fluoride to a large public swimming pool.
“It takes very little fluoride and it’s a mineral your body needs,” he said.
Pros and cons
Hormuth noted that most toothpastes feature fluoride, concluding its cavity-fighting properties no longer are needed in tap water.
Schmidt said fluoride is essential in many people’s diets, particularly young children. It strengthens teeth from the inside, too, making them “very hard and resistant to decay.”
Hormuth said evidence of fluoride’s destructive nature can be seen in the city’s recent need to replace corroded water pumps.
Schmidt noted Fredericksburg groundwater naturally has many chemicals and water pumps deteriorate over many years, regardless.
“No” vote advocates stress figures that show tooth decay declines up to 70 percent and tooth loss up to 60 percent in communities that fluoridate their water.
“Yes” supporter and local resident Robert Phoenix claimed in a Clean Water Fred press release, “There is no difference in the rates of tooth decay between unfluoridated vs. fluoridated countries.”
“Public health policy is based on the collective weight of scientific evidence,” states the ADA, which noted others supporting water fluoridation include the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which hails fluoridation as one of the “Ten Great Public Health Achievements” of the 20th century.
But in recent years, dozens of cities, including several in Texas, have removed added fluoride from their water after hearing arguments that it may cause anything from acne to anemia to Alzheimer’s.
Concerns about fluoride date back to the 1950s, when claims were made that fluoridating water was a communist plot to harm Americans.
The first city with fluoridated water was Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1945, as part of a 15-year study by the U.S. Public Health Service. The study was halted after 11 years when researchers announced Grand Rapids’ 30,000 children experienced a 60 percent drop in tooth decay, so further study was unnecessary.
The Grand Rapids experiment was conducted without residents’ consent.
Similarly, Hormuth takes issue with Fredericksburg leaders never asking local voters before adding fluoride to tap water, starting many years ago.
“I couldn’t understand why the city had not reexamined this outdated practice and looked into more recent research, or at least had a public discussion,” she said.
New study cited
Research on fluoridated tap water covers decades, with the vast majority supporting it.
And both sides in Fredericksburg’s debate point to lists of reasons available online that support their stances.
“No” proponents note that added fluoride not only helps strengthen teeth, but also other bones and no study concludes recommended fluoride levels in water harm the public.
Meanwhile, the “Yes” campaign maintains many of those studies are outdated and point to recent research that indicates it could be harmful.
Among studies cited by Hormuth is one published this summer on fluoridated water consumption by 512 pregnant women in six Canadian cities. It found higher levels of fluoride exposure before birth was associated with lower IQ scores in their offspring when their children reached age 3 to 4 years. The study concluded, “This indicates the possible need to reduce fluoride intake during pregnancy.”
“You might not see somebody drink a glass of water and then die,” Hormuth said. “It’s a chronic thing. And mix it with all the other toxins and things, you can’t say it (fluoride) is not causing anything.”
The ADA and others welcomed the Canadian study while arguing more studies are needed because its findings are inconclusive.
One of the Canadian study researchers, Dr. Angeles Martinez-Mier, chair of cardiology, operative dentistry and dental public health at Indiana University’s School of Dentistry, agrees.
He told ADA News in September that, while she stands “fully behind our study’s conclusions as an individual, I am happy to go on the record to say I continue to support water fluoridation.”