Potsdam meeting draws out those in support of fluoridation
By CRAIG FREILICH
POTSDAM – Of the roughly 50 people who attended Monday’s village Board of Trustees meeting, most who came to talk about fluoridation of village water rose to speak in support of the effort.
Many of those attending were medical professionals. About half of those there, including children, wore light blue “I (Heart) Fluoride” t-shirts.The board will be taking action soon on the question of whether to replace the village’s aging fluoridation equipment or to drop the program altogether.
The only action regarding fluoride on the board’s agenda Monday night was a vote to set a hearing for public input on the issue for Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 5 p.m. in the Civic Center Board Room, or possibly a venue with more capacity if there was time to arrange it and get out in time the required legal notice of the change in the hearing site.
But Monday night was chosen by advocates of fluoridation to impress on the trustees their belief in the effectiveness and importance of continuing the village’s program.
A leading advocate of fluoridation, dentist Dr. Johnny Johnson, Jr., of Florida, president of the American Fluoridation Society, came to Potsdam, at his own expense, he said, to argue in favor of water fluoridation in a presentation at the start of the meeting.
In introducing Johnson, local dentist and president of the local dental society Dr. Lee Aiken said that fluoridation to prevent tooth decay was “the single greatest commitment a community can make” to promote dental health.
Dr. Johnson said he has studied fluoridation extensively over the years. The effort, he said, was “one of the top 10 public health advancements of the 20th century.” He said that the measure routinely cuts the number of cavities by at least 25 percent, and possibly 50 percent, primarily aiding children from low-income families.
“Cavities are the most common chronic disease for children and teens. Low-income people are twice as likely to experience tooth decay.” He said that fluoridation of water in combination with use of a fluoride toothpaste is better than either alone, and “all ages benefit,” not just children.
Potsdam resident Shelly LaClair said there was plenty of evidence to challenge the claims that the benefits of fluoridation outweigh the risks, and that “many studies indicate the negative consequences” of fluoride use.
Resident Dean Laubscher voiced concerns about uncertainty of the amount of fluoride people might be getting, considering that a certain amount can be present in a water supply before it is added by a municipality, and that it can come from other sources, possibly increasing the amount to a toxic level.
Most of those who spoke during the public comment period were doctors, dentists, oral surgeons and other medical professionals who reflect a worldwide consensus of the value of fluoridation. Their clear message was that those who are opposed to fluoridating municipal water were not giving credit to the vast majority of peer-reviewed research over the decades showing that the benefit of cavity reduction, especially among children, was not diminished by claims of negative health effects caused by the additive.
Dr. Johnson said that the usual amount of fluoride in treated municipal supplies was 0.7 parts per billion. Total amounts likely to be encountered by people has not been shown to adversely affect health but in fact is clearly shown to increase dental health by helping to limit the number of cavities people get, avoiding the possible follow-on effects of infections that can have serious consequences including death.
Speaking in favor of fluoridation were:
• Potsdam resident Heather Cowen-Wilson, a certified EMT and adjunct professor of health
• Canton-Potsdam Hospital emergency physician Brenda Healey, who said she was a frequent witness to the severity of complications of tooth decay
• Dr. Mike Mullen, also of the C-PH Emergency Department
• Dr. Stephen Fisher, an oral surgeon in Potsdam
• Canton-Potsdam Hospital pediatrician Dr. Heather Jones
• Potsdam physical therapist Victor Caamaño
• Dentist Dr. Pedro Alvarez of the Community Health Center of the North Country in Canton, who said he has noticed an increase in caries since Canton rejected fluoridation of its water in 2003
Dr. Eyal Kedar, a rheumatologist in Canton, said he had regular dental care in the U.S. before he went to Africa for the Peace Corps for two years and still got standard dental care there. His diet was probably better there than what he ate as a college student before then, he said. But the water there was not fluoridated and within those two years he had several cavities, which was a surprise.
Clarkson professor Stephen Bird said that considering the consensus in favor of fluoridation we should continue on that path until there is strong enough evidence to the contrary to re-examine the question.
Stephen Casper of Chestnut Street, a history professor at Clarkson University warned that current trustees would be making a mistake if they vote to discontinue fluoridation contrary to the wishes of their predecessors,
Dr. Andrew Williams, the president of the St. Lawrence County Board of Health and an internal medicine specialist with 20 years’ experience, said that water fluoridation was not only effective at preventing tooth decay but was also cost effective even without figuring the “hidden tax” of dropping fluoridation and providing health care for those who might have been helped by fluoridation. “Dental care is a huge expense for people without Medicaid or dental insurance,” he said. He said the choice of fluoride or no fluoride in municipal water is an easy one for those who can find alternatives or deal with the consequences, but if it is stopped there are many who longer have choices.