Fears, fights, and conspiracies over fluoride in community water supplies are practically a national pastime throughout the United States. Cities across the country started adding fluoride to their water supply more than 68 years ago to fight tooth decay.
Even with decades of use and millions of people consuming the treated water, objections to fluoridation fester in parts of East Tennessee. This August voters in Oliver Springs will decide whether or not to remove fluoride from their drinking water.
Now the South Blount County Utility District (SBCUD) also plans to put the issue to a vote.
"We're going to send ballots to customers to vote on the fluoride issue. The first box indicates 'I want to continue fluoridation' and the second one says 'I vote to remove fluoride from the drinking water.' We'll start mailing them to customers in May," said Henry Durant, SBCUD manager.
SBCUD seemingly settled the fight over fluoride when it began adding it to the water supply in 2008. At the time, some people protested publicly and made claims that fluoride "causes Alzheimer's" and "lowers IQ." One protester said she filed a criminal complaint against the mayor of Blount County for an act of terrorism due to his support of fluoridation.
Durant did not elaborate on exactly why the issue of fluoride has been raised again, aside from mentioning a new member of the utility's board of directors supported examining the issue again. Durant says he does not have an opinion on the issue, but publicly opposed the addition of fluoride to the water supply during the ongoing debates between 2004 and 2008. Durant said the customers should decide and the utility will spend around $6,000 to conduct the vote.
"It will be one ballot per account. Then they will mail that postage paid to our accounting firm. That firm will count all of the votes and let us know by middle of June as to what the outcomes are," said Durant. "We are mailing them to more than 14,000 customers. Realistically, we expect around 4,000 to be returned. The people who really care about it one way or the other will be the ones who respond."
Fears over fluoride and jokes about the conspiracies are nothing new. One of the more iconic satires on the issue came in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove. The character General Jack D. Ripper says, "Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face."
Today there's plenty of fuel online for those who continue the Cold War fight against fluoride. Google the word "fluoride" and you will immediately find links to "fluoride alerts" that call fluoride "the most damaging environmental pollutant of the cold war." You can also find websites featuring doctors in white lab coats making false claims that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Dental Association (ADA) advise to avoid using fluoride. Other websites feature disinformation that fluoridated water should not be used in baby formula.
In truth, dental and health experts beg to differ with the disinformation spread on these anti-fluoride websites. The website for the CDC calls water fluoridation "one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century."
The ADA's website features a frequently asked questions page about fluoride and says, "It is safe to use fluoridated water to mix infant formula." The CDC and ADA are sure to recommend speaking to your personal dentists about what is best for their child.
Dentists with the Blount County Dental Society support fluoridation of drinking water. Dr. Lee Yount's dental practice is based in Maryville. Yount said the fears over fluoridation are unfounded.
"It has been documented that the fluoridation level has lowered dental decay in all children. They're finding areas that have taken away the fluoride that the decay rate seems to have started to climb again," said Yount. "This is something especially important to children during their early years to have exposure to fluoride."
Many of the conspiracy websites have latched onto announcements by the CDC and ADA regarding the recommended reduction of fluoride levels.
"There have been studies and you do not want to go overboard and put an excessive amount of fluoride in the water and cause fluorosis," said Yount. "But they have figured out the correct and safe amounts through the years so that we can have the benefits without causing any undue risks. I think that everybody when they get their ballot, they should go ahead and check 'yes, keep it fluoridated.'"
The Centers for Disease Control website features a page that exhaustively explains community water fluoridation at www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/. Likewise, the American Dental Association website addresses many questions regarding the appropriate use and safety of fluoride.