AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Dental Association is raising awareness about water fluoridation after a recent decision by the Brushy Creek Municipal Utility District in Williamson County to stop adding fluoride to its drinking water.
“It kind of makes us all stand on edge because we know the benefit it provides and the protection it provides,” said Dr. Tyrone Rodriguez, a pediatric dentist in San Antonio and TDA spokesperson.
In a letter sent to Brushy Creek MUD, the association, which has more than 9,000 members, wrote of the benefits of fluoridation including, “every $1 invested in water fluoridation yields $38 savings in dental treatment costs,” TDA added, “water fluoridation benefits everyone, especially those without access to regular dental care.”
Starting Dec. 1, the district said it will not additionally fluoridate the water to raise levels above naturally occurring which it had been doing since 2007. A spokesperson with Brushy Creek MUD said its water system will continue to have natural fluoride from Lake Stillhouse and the Edward’s Aquifer.
Safety and efficacy
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fluoride is added to drinking water as a public health measure to prevent tooth decay and reduce cavities.
“Think of it on the lines of why people have vitamin D fortification in their milk or why people are recommended to wear sunscreen when they’re out in the sun, or why we have seatbelts. There’s a lot of science behind the promotion of those recommendations for the safety and the benefit of a society,” explained Rodriguez.
In a letter sent to water customers, Brushy Creek MUD explained that scientists have “raised questions about the long-term effects and potential risks associated with water fluoridation. While some studies suggest benefits, others indicate potential adverse health effects, especially in vulnerable populations such as infants, individuals with kidney disease, and those with specific medical conditions.”
During a May Brushy Creek Board of Directors meeting where the MUD considered the continuation of adding fluoride to its water, it was stated that the district saves $3,000 to $5,000 a year which could go towards other public health initiatives.
The meeting also highlighted research from the National Library of Medicine on the fluoride debate published in 2018. It concluded, “Concurrently, recent opposition has been growing worldwide against fluoridation, emphasizing the potential and serious risk of toxicity. Since the fluoride benefit is mainly topical, perhaps it is better to deliver fluoride directly to the tooth instead of ingesting it. Fluoride toothpaste, rinses and varnish applications have proven their effectiveness in some countries, but they are still not universally affordable.”
The science behind fluoridation
“It is unnecessary. You don’t need it for good oral health. If — if everybody stopped brushing with it today and didn’t drink any in their water, they would have no increase in cavities whatsoever,” said retired dentist Dr. Griffin Cole.
The Fluoride Action Network, which works to end fluoridation, says since 2010, over 240 communities have rejected fluoridation across North America.
“There’s too much science now showing that it’s harmful, not only to us as adults and young children, but to babies in the womb, pregnant moms who are drinking fluoridated water are giving birth to children that have cognitive impairments, including lower IQs,” said Cole.
There are numerous studies on the safety and efficacy of fluoride. The TDA highlighted one called, “U.S. Public Health Service Recommendation for Fluoride Concentration in Drinking Water for the Prevention of Dental Caries” from 2015. It looked at the optimal fluoride concentration in drinking water for prevention of dental caries, or tooth decay, in the United States. The study stated, “Community water fluoridation remains an effective public health strategy for delivering fluoride to prevent tooth decay and is the most feasible and cost-effective strategy for reaching entire communities.”
Rodriguez added, “The science that’s behind fluoridation is a very current science. And there are fringe studies that alarm people because they are done with excessive amounts, and they’re done with abnormal types of exposures.”
He urges water customers to reach out to the MUD and share their concerns.
What’s in your water?
“By taking it out, you’re almost in effect, leaving the community unprotected,” Rodriguez said. “My genuine concern is that I understand the science and as the parent of multiple children, I don’t want my children growing up in a community that’s unprotected.”
Brushy Creek MUD explained to water customers in its announcement in September that it should be a personal choice, “By discontinuing water fluoridation, we allow individuals to exercise their autonomy and decide whether to obtain fluoride from alternative sources such as dental products or dietary choices.”
The district tells KXAN investigators it has no plans to reverse the decision.
The CDC shows which public water systems have active fluoridation programs. Brushy Creek MUD explained the agency does not record which water systems have naturally occurring fluoride. According to the CDC, the cities of Austin and Cedar Park have active fluoridation programs whereas the cities of Round Rock and Georgetown do not.
The MUD is required to notify the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and its customers before permanently terminating the addition of fluoride to drinking water which it has done. The state health department did have a fluoridation program that collected data in Texas, but it was terminated last year due to budget cuts.
A spokesperson with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explained that while the agency has established National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for naturally occurring fluoride in drinking water, EPA does not regulate the addition of fluoride. The EPA is not required to be notified if a city or municipality discontinues the addition of fluoride. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) oversees the national water fluoridation program.
The spokesperson added that the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires EPA to review each national primary drinking water regulation at least once every six years. The agency evaluates any newly available data, information and technologies to determine if any regulatory revisions are needed. The last review was in 2017 and the spokesperson explained that the EPA determined a revision for fluoride is not appropriate at that time.
“Every dentist, including myself, had it hammered into us that fluoride was the panacea that you, you apply it topically, you drink it in the water, and it’s just so wonderful for our teeth,” explained Cole. “I started practicing in 1993 and I promoted for it. I even wrote an article about it, I was so proud of it. And the next year, I started looking into it in more detail and I realized that what we were taught is just not correct. And so, I immediately changed and started to learn more and more about it. And that’s what people need to do is educate yourselves.”
Cole said he’ll be in Dallas testifying next week as the city weighs whether or not to continue to fluoridate its water.