Call to Remove Fluoride from Water Keeps Chugging on Dallas City Council

In the U.S., common knowledge -- that's a polite term for bigoted slander -- says the English have the worst teeth in the world. That's an unkind thing to say, and maybe not even true, as anyone who has traveled parts of the South can attest. So to soothe hurt feelings among our British allies, we offer the following good news: Someday in the future Dallas might replace the U.K. as the capital city of scary smiles if a group of fluoridation opponents have their way and fluoride is removed for the city's drinking water.

If a trend on the City Council continues, they just might.

The anti-fluorites have become a regular appearance at City Hall over the past several months, but at last week's City Council briefing, two council members jumped on board. Sheffie Kadane and Scott Griggs agreed that fluoridation does not do enough good for Dallas teeth to balance the cost.

CLARIFICATION: Griggs contacted us Tuesday morning and said he did not say at the meeting he agreed with Kadane on the benefits and costs of fluoridation -- although that's what Kadane told us. Griggs has said in the past that he's open to studying the issue though, according to reports in The Dallas Morning News.

Kadane has been a vocal opponent the use of fluoride in Dallas drinking water for awhile now. He argued earlier this summer, to general amusement, that fluoridation could hurt people. Kadane cited as evidence warnings on toothpaste tubes that tell users not to swallow the stuff. Fluoridation supporters pointed out that the concentration of fluoride in drinking water is so low that it can't hurt people in the same way higher dosages of fluoride in toothpaste might. Despite outcries from oral health experts, Kadane isn't stopping.

Dr. John Findley, a former president of the American Dental Association who still runs his own local practice, thinks any argument against fluoridation is groundless. "The most obvious benefit is it fights tooth decay," he says. "That's the most common disease of childhood, it's very prevalent. And with proper fluoride levels, you can cut the amount of decay by 50 percent. That's just huge, not just in terms of pain and suffering but in terms of dental care.

City Council members were attracted by the money saving benefit of cutting fluoride. Roughly $1 million is spent by the city every year to add fluoride to drinking water. It's money that fluoridation opponents say is wasteful, and money that could be going back into the city.

"They say it helps stop tooth decay, but then why do we have more dental visits than ever?" Kadane says. "That fluoride they add in, we don't need. And we can save a million dollars taking it out."

But Findley and most other dentists say that the money spent on fluoridation ultimately saves money in dental care and repair. "For every $1 spent on fluoridation, you save $18 in dental care costs. That's a sign return on investment," Findley says. "You've got a system here that eliminates half of the most common disease in children. And to remove it from the water supply is short-sighted, in every way."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chemical has been credited with a 40 to 70 percent reduction of tooth decay in kids and 40 to 60 percent reduction of tooth loss in adults, in the past 50 years since fluoride has been added to American drinking water. The benefits of fluoridated water now reaches over half the country.

"I'm a practitioner, so the first rule is do no harm. That's my main concern," Findley says. "Today you see many patients grow up all through school and never have a filling. And most of that is due to good education and fluoride."

Science is on the dentists' side. Ample peer-reviewed evidence supports the case that fluoridation prevents tooth decay and saves money in the long run, and dozens of health groups support fluoridation. "It's one of the top 10 scientific advancements in the last century. It's right up with the invention of antibiotics in terms of what it means for the prevention of disease," Findley says.

"In any situation today we get opinions and thoughts, but it's important to look at the best scientific evidence available," he continues. "The best evidence, and it's not just in the U.S., is that there's absolutely no harm. The benefits are only positive from adjusting fluoride in water supplies."

In case you were still in doubt, take a look at some British smiles. Now be honest Dallas, do you really want your teeth to look like this?

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Emily Mathis