Fluoride In Drinking Water

The majority of major cities in the United States add fluoride to the city’s drinking water in an effort to prevent tooth decay.  Portland, Oregon is the largest city in this country that does not fluoridate its water.   However, as a result of its city council’s vote this past Wednesday, Portland will join the mainstream and begin to add fluoride to the city’s drinking water beginning in March 2014. 

One Portland pediatric dentist, Michael Biermann, praises the move.  Biermann devotes sixty percent of his practice to treating children enrolled in Medicaid, and said that many of these children have extensive tooth decay.  He spoke of one recent patient, a three-year-old boy, whose 21 decayed teeth all needed crowns.  Biermann feels that adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water is the only tooth protection many low income children will receive. 

Even though 200 million Americans drink fluoridated water and that it’s endorsed by many major public health organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), Portland has opponents of adding fluoride to public drinking water.  Portland voters have not approved a fluoridation measure since 1978, and even then, it was overturned before taking effect. 

According to the CDC, fluoridation is not only cost effective, but also cost saving as the reduction of costs of fillings greatly exceeds the cost of water fluoridation in communities of any size.    The CDC also stated that studies continue to show that widespread community water fluoridation prevents cavities and saves money for families as well as for the community.

Opponents of adding fluoride to drinking water say the substance is unsafe and that it amounts to mandatory medication without consent.  Opponents also contend that scientific evidence remains sketchy that fluoride helps prevent tooth decay. 

In an attempt to strike a balance, two federal agencies, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency, have proposed to reduce the maximum level of fluoride allowed in public drinking water.  The plan is to reduce the amount of fluoride from 1.2 milligrams per liter to 0.7 milligrams per liter. According to these government agencies, lowering the level of fluoride would still prevent tooth decay and would also prevent unwanted health affects such as dental fluorosis, which causes lacy white stains on the teeth of people who intake too much fluoride.  Even though a decision on the proposal was supposed to be made in the spring of 2011, this proposal is still up in the air. 

Dr. Biermann is encouraged by the Portland city council’s latest decision and is hoping that “This time it might stick.”