A decision by the DeKalb Utility District to not add fluoride to its consumer water supply when the new plant opens is causing concern among some.
During the regular monthly meeting last Thursday, Beth Pafford, assistant principal at Northside Elementary School, Dr. Mitch Tatum, a local dentist, and Dr. Steven Cooper addressed the DUD Board of Commissioners asking them to reconsider their decision in the interest of the public’s dental health.
“I am here as a resident and educator in this community because I am very concerned about the decision to not include fluoridation water in with the new water treatment plant and asking that you reverse course and vote to change that decision for the health and well being of our citizens,” said Pafford.
“I brought with me a note signed by local physicians in support of water fluoridation. I also have some information from various sources regarding the benefits of water fluoridation. It is supported as a safe and effective way to prevent cavities and promote dental health by the U.S. Surgeon General, the CDC, the AMA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the ADA, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the EPA as well as the Tennessee Department of Health,” said Pafford.
The DUD’s decision not to fluoridate the water was based on several factors including the costs, the potential chemical hazards, and that fluoride is already in most drinking water sources as well as toothpaste and mouthwash. Before the decision was made, notices were sent, as required by law, to customers with their monthly bills making them aware of the DUD’s intentions. According to DUD Manager Jon Foutch, only four customers expressed an opinion and all were opposed to fluoridation of their water supply.
Pafford said four responses out of thousands of DUD customers is not a valid survey result and questioned whether most customers were even aware of this decision.
Dr. Tatum asked why the board chose to go against the recommendation of health department officials when they recently addressed the DUD commissioners in favor of water fluoridation.
“You went against the health department when they came to you,” he said.
“They made a very nice presentation. We listened to it and did our own research. We had to come to a decision,” answered DUD Board Chairman Roger Turney.
“Where do you have the expertise to do research on fluoridation? This is all research that is 70 years in the process and for you to say we have done our own research. That doesn’t fly,” said Dr. Tatum.
“A lot of that research you are reporting goes back to a period of time when fluoride was not in toothpaste or mouthwash. But that has changed. Isn’t there evidence that there are extreme hazards if you get too much fluoride?. That’s part of our consideration,” replied Turney.
“But if you have trained people and you are doing your job, you should be able to do that. There are systems in place that made that very safe if you do the training,” answered Dr. Tatum.
Pafford said she is concerned that the dental health of the community, especially children, will suffer without fluoridated water. “The American Dental Association says 51 million school hours are lost per year in this country due to dental related illnesses. I called the health department and we do not have dental services through our health department in this county. Not fluoridating the water disproportionally affects the poor and children in our community. All water contains some fluoride but most of it is not at levels high enough to help prevent tooth decay and cavities so that is why for over 70 years communities have added fluoride to the water to benefit the health of their residents and people that drink the water. And even though we have fluoride in tooth paste and mouth wash now they still say fluoride in the water system makes a difference in the oral health of people. It is my plea that you reconsider that decision. Its an opportunity for us to make a statement as a community about what we value here and the health of all of our residents is very important. Water fluoridation is a simple way to do that,” she said.
Turney said while the DUD has decided not to fluoridate the water supply for now, the new DUD plant has the capacity to add fluoride if the decision is ever changed. “The majority of what you presented to us was presented to us by the health department. We will be more than happy to look at what you presented. The plant is built so that we can fluoridate in the future if we decide to do so but at this particular time we have decided not to start with it. The process can be changed. We did a lot of study to consider whether to or not to do it. I personally did a lot of research and the vast majority of new plants that are going on line throughout the nation are not fluoridating and a lot of the ones that did are starting to stop, not all. There are a lot of facts out there now that support both ways,” he said.
“All the communities around here have fluoride in their water. I checked. The overwhelming evidence supports the benefits of water fluoridation. I am very concerned. We already have attendance problems at school and when we have students not coming in or coming in and beginning to complain in a few years with toothaches then that is going to add to the reasons why they are not in school,” said Pafford.
“I was involved in education for 44 years and most of that time I was involved in a school that did not have fluoride in the water. It was well water. I don’t know of a single solitary time that we had attendance problems because of cavities,” responded Turney.
“I have had many students come in years past with toothaches and I would have to send them to a nurse. There’s not a whole lot a nurse can do about a toothache. Its just anecdotal evidence. Teachers will tell you they have noticed a difference in the number of students complaining with toothaches,” said Pafford.
“I believe fluoridation is a good thing. We went through a period in the city where water was not fluoridated for a while and I did notice within a couple of years that there were more kids coming in with cavities. It takes two to three years to see that effect, a rise in the cavity rate,” said Dr. Cooper.
Dr. Tatum asked the DUD commissioners if they could be persuaded to change their minds.
“How do we get you to go about changing your mind? Do we start a petition? Do I need to get 1,000 people on a petition or 1,000 people out here? Do I need to get the ADA to come out here and present something. It’s really short sighted that this has been done. Studies show that communities that have taken fluoride out of their water see a 25% increase in cavities. We are underserved as a dental community and its going to make that even worse,” he said.
“Is it a big money thing?” asked Dr. Tatum
“Its expensive yes sir,” replied Turney.
“We’re talking about our community. There are times when you cut back on something because its worth it to save the money but there are times when you spend the money because its worth it for the residents of the community for their health. I have given you some specific studies and I would appreciate if you look at specific studies if you would publicize those and maybe put them on your website to say this is what we are basing our decision on. Again, all the major health organizations and the Tennessee Department of Health support water fluoridation,” said Pafford.
DUD Manager Foutch pointed out that while the state does not require utilities to fluoridate their water supplies, the DUD decision could be reversed if it can be proven that the lack of fluoride in the water system is contributing to an increase in cavities.
“Its not mandated because its not necessary to keep the water clean and drinkable so we don’t get sick from it but it is recommended. I do not understand why we don’t just start with fluoride,” said Pafford.
The water supply for the City of Smithville and the towns of Liberty and Dowelltown are fluoridated but not in Alexandria. The town gets its water from the Smith County Utility District.