Florida’s Pinellas County commissioners have voted to stop adding fluoride to drinking water — a public health effort proved to reduce cavities in kids and tooth decay in adults.
The 4-3 vote reneges the fluoridation policy adopted by the County in 2004, which is still touted as a “safe and effective” way to “inhibit, reduce, or even reverse the onset and development of tooth decay” on the County’s website.
Minute amounts of fluoride — about one part per million — have been added to American drinking water since 1945.
“We’ve been doing this for over 65 years now, and over time the percentage of the U.S population that gets fluoridated water has climbed steadily,” said Dr. William Bailey, chief dental officer of the U.S. Public Health Service and acting director of the CDC’s Division of Oral Health. “It’s the CDC’s recommendation that all communities should enjoy the benefits of water fluoridation.”
Water fluoridation has been shown to reduce a person’s risk of tooth decay by an additional 25 percent over fluoridated toothpaste, Bailey said. And a lifetime supply costs less than a single filling.
“Community water fluoridation has been recognized by the CDC as one of the top 10 public health interventions of the 20th Century,” said ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. “It has dramatically reduced dental caries across the population. No longer do most Americans worry about losing their teeth as they get older.”
In 2008, 72.4 percent of the U.S. population, or 195,545,109 people, had access to fluoridated water, according to the CDC. Like cereal fortified with folic acid, milk fortified with vitamin D and salt containing iodine, tap water containing fluoride offers a safe and healthful supplement that busy bodies don’t even have to think about.
“It is a public health benefit that reaches every citizen from children to old age,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “The risk is essentially nil in a well-managed program.”
But skeptics question the safety of fluoride, linking it to diseases like Alzheimer’s and arthritis and even low IQ.
“Fluoride is a toxic substance,” Tea Party activist Tony Caso told the St. Petersburg Times. “This is all part of an agenda that’s being pushed forth by the so-called globalists in our government and the world government to keep the people stupid so they don’t realize what’s going on.”
The fluoridation debate is not new. Scientific panels continue to review the research, and have found no evidence for any adverse health effects of fluoridation. Schaffner said he hopes Pinellas County and other communities that have decided to discontinue fluoridation will reconsider based on the scientific evidence.
“Fluoride is obviously a good thing and it’s a public health issue and it should remain a public health issue not a political issue,” he said.
ABC News’ Carrie Gann contributed to this report.