Fluoridation meeting draws crowd in Potsdam, residents suggest alternative dental health programs
By CRAIG FREILICH
POTSDAM – Amid the often-repeated arguments about municipal water fluoridation at a hearing in Potsdam Tuesday night, a new consensus seemed to be emerging that a more comprehensive approach to promoting dental health is needed.
The village Board of Trustees has been researching the issue and considering whether or not the village should spend the money to replace its aging water fluoridation equipment, and if it should continue the practice at all. They plan a vote on the question at the next meeting Sept. 17.The hearing at the Civic Center Tuesday night provided another opportunity for local citizens and others to present their thoughts on the issue, more of whom spoke in favor of it than those who spoke against it.
Several who favor fluoridation were medical and dental professionals from Potsdam and other nearby communities who talked about the effects of poor dental health they saw and had treated. Many of these speakers also spoke at the last village meeting Aug. 20. See story here.
Many of those who said they opposed continuing village water fluoridation said they thought other methods of prevention should be considered, or the village should go slower or put the issue to a referendum.
Susan Powers of Potsdam said she wanted “to reach all of our neighbors” not just village residents. Fluoridating village water doesn’t reach enough people to address what many medical professionals who spoke stressed was a serious problem in the relatively poor population of St. Lawrence County. And others had similar ideas.
The aim of adding fluoride to a water supply is to reach people who might not otherwise get the benefits of strengthened tooth enamel and reduction in tooth cavities or caries, especially children.
Jerry Bartlett of Colton offered a plan he said is more environmentally friendly and more inclusive.
He suggested adopting something similar to the free school lunch program for children from lower income families that would identify kids in need and supply them with a range of measures such as fluoride toothpaste, topical fluoride applications, and other methods where dosage can be calculated, if their families choose to participate. Such a targeted approach, he said, would eliminate the waste of fluoridated water, with the many other uses, of paying for a program that results in “literally, money down the drain with no gain.”
He suggests distribution of toothbrushes and a demonstration of how to use one, along with other dental hygiene information, not just to children but to adults as well.
Bartlett suggests beginning it as a pilot program with volunteers, and with help from local dental professionals and from dental suppliers willing do donate materials. And he suggests that Potsdam can lead the effort with adoption of his ideas.
Others also stressed the need for more outreach, while one speaker urged the village to consider that, whatever else they may do, they not abandon the fluoridation program.
Katherine Laubscher, who suffers from an “underactive thyroid” and is concerned about the effects of excessive fluoride, said she believed a better approach than adding the chemical to village water might be to bring programs into schools for topical applications of fluoride and education about dental hygiene.
Controversy has surrounded the issue for decades, with proponents pointing to study after study resulting in evidence that fluoridation works to prevent tooth decay, that it is safe, and that it is cost-effective in terms of community health.
Opponents doubt the effectiveness of such programs and the wisdom of putting chemicals in the water that people will drink as they build up in the environment. Of particular concern is the lack of control over what they are putting in their bodies and uncertainty over how much of the chemical they might be taking in.
St. Lawrence County at one time ran a children’s dental sealant program but no longer does.
The Community Health Center of the North Country in Canton has a dental sealant program along with “an educational presentation, screenings, sealant placements and follow-ups for 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders who have received permission from a parent or guardian. The program will travel to 21 schools in 17 districts, including 3 parochial schools,” the CHCNC web site says, at http://chcnorthcountry.org/dental-sealant-program.
Some people oppose municipal fluoridation on the grounds that imposing it on a whole local population removes their choice about how to approach the problem, while others say removing it eliminates their right to have a reliable aid to dental health that will help everyone using that water while reducing the reliance on other community resources such as emergency care for people with the effects of advanced dental decay.
The overwhelming authoritative evidence that fluoridation works and is safe is routinely countered by claims that new evidence casts doubt on those claims.
But proponents rest on the great body of work supported by major medical authorities in favor of fluoridation.
After the hearing, during the regular village board meeting, there were dueling presentations from a well-known dentist and fluoridation proponent from Florida who also made a presentation at the last village meeting, and a dentist from a remote location with an opposition presentation.
Clarkson University Prof. Dr. Alan Rossner, who has a Ph.D. in environmental health, said that with all the evidence in favor of fluoridation, the village must not stop the program because “there is not enough evidence to stop.”
Mayor Ron Tischler said that a vote on the issue will be on the agenda for the next regular Board of Trustees meeting Sept. 17 at 6 p.m.