Early this year, the Bedford Regional Water Authority ended its decades-long program of adding fluoride to the county’s drinking water supply and entered the latest science culture war.
At its Jan. 17 meeting, the BRWA board of directors voted unanimously to stop adding fluoride to the water supply as of Feb. 1, after receiving what assistant director Nathan Carroll described as communications from several members of the public expressing concerns about fluoridation and its safety. After the public received notices about the change in their bills, opposition to the move surfaced, including from Dr. Annie Libbey, a Forest dentist.
At this point, it might be useful to provide a bit of history about water fluoridation in the United States. The practice came into widespread use in the late 1940s as the public health profession’s opening salvo in the fight for better dental health in America. And from the beginning, there were opponents, primarily from the far right of the political spectrum. The most prominent of those was the John Birch Society which argued water fluoridation was a communist plot designed to lay the groundwork for the takeover of the nation by the Soviet Union: Dental health was a smokescreen, they said, claiming mind control was the real goal.
Today, opposition to fluoridation comes from the libertarian political realm with the argument that the state cannot make an individual ingest a chemical without his consent. Opponents point to studies, of varying quality and scope, that purportedly link fluoride to a variety of medical conditions; presumably, these were among the supporting documents opponents of Bedford’s fluoridation program presented to the BRWA board.
But then there are the studies and pronouncements of the nation’s leading scientific and health organizations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention see fluoridation of the public drinking water supply in the United States as one of the 10 most important public health achievements of the 20th century. The American Dental Association, the leading professional and scientific association for the field, hails fluoridation as the leading success story of dental medicine. Several years ago, the ADA produced a 70-page book summarizing the science and medical benefits of fluoridation, and today, it stands by those conclusions as fluoridation marks 70 years of public health policy.
The ADA and the American Medical Association point to the now-proven connection between good dental health and overall health in individuals as illustrative of the value of fluoridation. Scientists have concluded there is a definite link, for example, between poor dental and gum health and cardiological problems. On the other hand, there is no evidence at all linking fluoride to neurological issues such as autism, as opponents claim.
Six years ago, Amherst County officials quietly discontinued its fluoridation program, reinstating it in early 2014 after the public caught wind of it and protested.
Up to 2011, Amherst had fluoridated its water at a concentration of between 0.8 and 1.4 milligrams per liter (parts per million) with a target of 0.9 ppm. The CDC’s recommendation at the time was 0.7 ppm. At the urging of the Virginia Department of Health, that was the standard Amherst adopted with fluoridation resumed in 2014.
We hope Bedford will recognize the sound science supporting fluoridation as Amherst did. The small, $2,600 cost of fluoridation pays unmatched dividends in the form of better dental health for all BRWA customers, both young and old.