In October, the Walden Village Board made a preliminary decision to discontinue the addition of fluoride to its public water supply, and in a special meeting on Monday morning, officials from the New York State Department of Health urged the council to reconsider its position.
The Jan. 22 meeting with the health agency representatives was the next step for Walden in the state process for phasing out water fluoridation, and the board would still need to pass a resolution to end the practice. In November, the village gave the state the required 90-day notice about the potential end to the water fluoridation program, and the board set a tentative date of March 1 to end the fluoridation.
During the meeting, State Dental Director Dr. Dionne Richardson told the board that no ties have been proven between consumption of fluoride and negative health consequences. “Expert panels consisting of scientists from the United States and other countries have all shared their expertise in various health and scientific disciplines and have considered the available research and comparative literature, and have not found convincing scientific evidence linking water fluoridation to adverse health effects,” Dr. Richardson explained. The doctor added that the federal Environmental Protection Agency denied a petition in February to prohibit added fluoride in drinking supplies because sufficient scientific proof could not be provided that proved that consumers had suffered neurotoxic harm as a result of drinking fluoridated water.
The dentist noted that she had seen children and adults suffer greatly over the course of her 24-year career due to unwanted dental pain. The Department of Health argues that water fluoridation is an effective tool in combating cavities. “The main benefit is that it protects against developing dental decay,” Dr. Richardson said. “Which is one of the most common chronic diseases in children, and certainly dental decay can be an issue even until your older adult life. The evidence is pretty clear that it is the number one way to prevent dental decay.” Dr. Richardson added during her presentation that Walden would be receiving an award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dating back to 2016 for the village’s practice of fluoridating its water supply.
A panel of 10 representatives was present at the special meeting on Monday, and Trustee Brenda Adams asked the group if the state had conducted its own study in regards to the potential dangers of water fluoridation. The state conceded that the department had not conducted its own systematic report of that size, instead relying on independent studies.
“There have been some studies, I believe it’s Calgary, two Canadian cities, when they discontinued they followed the children growing up over the next 10 years and there was an increase in the amount of dental decay and related claims once they did officially cease fluoridation,” Erin Knoerl, Oral Health Unit Manager at the Bureau of Child Health, said. “So there have been a few examples of that where city populations have been followed post-cessation.”
Walden Mayor Susan Rumbold explained that the board did not hear much new information from the panel during the session that the state hadn’t already presented before. “No, because we’ve discussed this for so long and so many times previously,” she said. “The New York State Department of Health has been here before, and they basically provided the same data this time that they have in the past. It was nice of them to come, but it was obviously something that we had to comply with.” If the decision to halt the water fluoridation comes to pass, Rumbold noted during the meeting that the village had discontinued the practice in 2012-2013 and did not suffer any adverse effects to the infrastructure of its water system, and did not anticipate that happening this time around.
According to the state, the Walden case is the first time since the water fluoridation law passed in the 2015-2016 legislative session that has required a state consultation meeting, but other municipalities have opted out in the past, with three water systems discontinuing fluoride in the past seven years. The department is concerned that some residents will not have viable alternatives to procuring fluoride if the program stops in Walden. “The lack of access to care, especially in smaller communities where there are few dentists, health professional shortages areas that don’t have a lot of dentists,” Richardson explained of the risks. “If people are underinsured or they don’t have access to a dentist because they’re low income or Medicaid recipients, that’s an added access issue. So for all of those reasons, community water fluoridation helps to provide that coverage.” There are also natural levels of fluoride currently in the water supply, as well as toothpaste with the substance included.
The village consulted numerous medical professionals during its months-long debate on the fluoride issue last year, with experts providing arguments on both sides of the matter. While some argue that drinking a steady supply of fluoride could have harmful effects, the state points out that tooth decay leads to myriad problems beyond simple cavities. “The effect it has on children’s performance overall as far as school attendance, self esteem, those types of things too,” Marilyn Kacica, New York State Medical Director, Division of Family Health, said. “So I think overall in the population there was a recent study that said that a third of children in the population have dental caries, but when you go into the high-risk groups it doubles. Then about 15 percent of those aren’t treated and it results in long-term health outcomes.”
The next step for the board could be an upcoming vote on a resolution on whether or not to ultimately end water fluoridation. “We’re going through an interpretation issue with the timeframe, so once that gets hammered out then we’ll know how we proceed,” Rumbold said. The administration will go through the special meeting summary with village attorney Dave Donovan to get his legal opinion on the matter, and the three-month notification clock could start over if it’s deemed legally prudent. “If the attorney believes that we have to re-issue the notification, it will be 90 days from that date for removal,” Village Manager John Revella said.
By Ted Remsnyder