It may not be a commie plot, but it is certainly an issue people can sink their teeth into.
And later this summer, Collier County commissioners will get their bite at the apple.
The water fluoridation debate is coming to Southwest Florida.
Last month, Frank Oakes, of Oakes Farm Market fame, implored county commissioners to end the practice of adding fluoride to the county’s drinking water.
Ostensibly a means of promoting strong teeth and reducing tooth decay, fluoride represents a danger to the rest of the body, Oakes argued.
“It’s a toxin. It’s a drug. It’s hazardous waste,” he said. “Of all the non-sensical things government does from time to time, there’s nothing as outrageously stupid as adding this hazardous waste to our water supply.”
Municipalities began adding fluoride to the water supply in the 1940s. Studies have shown a drop of 50 percent or more in the incidence of cavities in places where fluoridation was tried. About 70 percent of the U.S. population drinks fluoridated water.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control classifies fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th Century, alongside recognition of tobacco use as a health hazard and vaccination.
Opponents of fluoridation have been lampooned as paranoid lunatics. In the 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove, Gen. Jack D. Ripper explains to Peter Sellers’ character how communists are using fluoridation to contaminate the bodily fluids of Americans, prompting him to order a nuclear attack against the Soviet Union.
But the anti-fluoridation movement has become more than a joke in recent years. Calgary, Alberta, earlier this year stopped adding fluoride to its water in response to the same concerns raised by Oakes. Austin, Texas, is on the front lines of the fluoridation fight in the U.S., with an organization, Fluoride Free Austin, leading the effort to end the practice.
Oakes has posted a petition at his store and has collected about 2,000 signatures supporting an end to fluoridation in Collier County.
Like Fluoride Free Austin, he cites studies suggesting a link between fluoride and cancer, lower IQ in children, depression and other maladies.
The studies, however, aren’t conclusive.
The American Cancer Society, in a summary of the issue, writes, “The general consensus among the reviews done to date is that there is no strong evidence of a link between water fluoridation and cancer.” It includes the caveat, “further studies ...are needed to clarify the possible link.”
Oakes says that while it is bad enough that fluoride is in the drinking water, showering with fluoridated water allows the chemical to enter the bloodstream through the skin. “I don’t even mind drinking the crap, but I can’t get it out of my shower,” he said.
Fluoride toothpaste applied topically gives people adequate protection against cavities, he argues, and ingesting it doesn’t help teeth. “It’s the same as drinking your sunblock to protect your skin.”
Commissioner Georgia Hiller, who told Oakes her daughter had fluorosis, a condition caused by too much fluoride, made a motion to direct staff to end fluoridation of the county’s water supply lacking some compelling evidence to the contrary.
In the face of skepticism from other commissioners, she scaled the request back to one for a full hearing on the question, a hearing now scheduled for September.
Oakes hopes to have members of the dental profession on hand then to advocate an end to fluoridation. Doctors outside the field of dentistry should also be included in the discussion, he said.
He’s almost certain to run up against opposition from dentists who support the practice. Members of the Collier County Dental Association have been discussing ways to address the issue, according to Dr. Richard Garcia, president of the group.
David Higgins, spokesman for the Florida Dental Association, confirmed that an effort will be made to convince commissioners to continue with fluoridation.
“Our local dental society leaders are currently educating Collier County commissioners on the importance of optimal-fluoridation levels in community drinking water,” he said.
Dr. Cesar Sabates, president of the FDA said “Our community water fluoridation programs are vital to the public health. It is important that community leaders understand that cutting these vital health programs will directly lead to more cavities or tooth decay. This is especially true for low-income children, who have little access to dental services.”
The cost of fluoridation to Collier County customers is about 14 cents per year. In a 2010 report on drinking water, Collier utility managers put the level of fluoride in the water at 1.1 parts per million. Since then, the level has been reduced to closer to the 0.7 parts ppm that the CDC has recently defined as “optimal.”
For Oakes, even that’s too high. “There’s no reason to force those of us who don’t want it to shower in it, to drink it. It’s a moral issue. You have no right to force this medicine in our bodies,” he said.
Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten