Council Members Ask Pros and Cons of Fluoride

Toothbrush under faucet | Image by Caruso Christian

Dallas City Council members are calling for a new briefing on fluoridation of the city’s water supply, asking for a less biased briefing on the matter.

Cities across North Texas have been adding fluoride to water supplies for decades. Dallas began doing so in 1966. The North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) approved the introduction of additional fluoride into its water in 1981, with scientific research supporting the claim that simply drinking fluoridated water in optimal amounts can reduce the threat of tooth decay in children and adults by 25%.

The water treated by NTMWD has an average fluoride concentration of 0.3 ppm; however, these numbers are adjusted to 0.7 ppm, falling well below the limit of 4.0 ppm set by the EPA.

However, the city of Dallas has added fluoride into its own waters since 1966.

A panel of experts including doctors and dentists appeared before the Quality of Life, Arts, and Culture committee meeting on Monday to discuss fluoride in the city’s drinking water. This panel included Sarah Sandifer, assistant director of Dallas Water Utilities, Johnny Johnson, president of the American Fluoridation Society, and Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services.

The panelists espoused to the committee the dental benefits provided by water fluoridated to proper levels, noting that the substance is already present in water in small concentrations.

“Fluoride helps teeth in two ways, topically and systemically,” said Mary Swift, past president of the Dallas County Dental Society. “Please keep in mind that there are some parts of the community that a toothbrush is a luxury … but they do get water.”

Some panel members suggested that fluoridation in some areas be increased.

“The reasons that we are at about three-quarters out of our community water systems that are fluoridated in the U.S. … [is] because those represent … the largest of the communities,” said Johnson during the meeting. “Small communities are the ones that we need to increase in.”

Some medical professionals have, however, suggested that the substance can be harmful.

A low concentration of fluoride is found in water naturally, but in high concentrations, the substance is recognized as a neurotoxin, and cases of fluorosis have been recorded in nations with extreme fluoride levels.

“Human studies have also indicated that chronic fluoride exposure could have long-term neurotoxic effects on children who have been exposed during development, including decreased intelligence or the increased prevalence of ADHD,” according to a study from 2021. “More research is needed to determine if there is a link between chronic fluoride exposure and depression- and anxiety-like symptoms in humans.”

The panelists communicated that they were aware of such claims but wanted the committee to fact-check them. Huang characterized some of the negative assertions about fluoride as “scare tactics.”

Some City officials present viewed the presentation as biased.

District 7 Council Member Adam Bazaldua and District 9 Council Member Paula Blackmon both said that they want another presentation that is “less opinionated” and more data-based, according to KERA News. Bazaldua said he would like to hear from both sides of the debate on fluoride.

“I think it would be just as helpful to have opposition get their opportunity to present and answer questions,” he said. “So that an informed decision can be made based on hearing subjective [sic] arguments from both sides.”

Both council members questioned whether the addition of fluoride is truly in the best interest of the general public or whether it is a continuation of an old practice that has persisted for decades.

“Do we still use 1950s dental practices?” asked Blackmon, per KERA. “I think it’s a fair question for this council to ask … in 2023, is a practice that we had in 1950 still a fair practice?”

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