PIEDMONT — City leaders Tuesday decided not to fluoridate Piedmont’s water, against the recommendations of area dentists and state medical experts.
The chemical compound many health care experts and decades of research states prevents tooth decay was removed from the city’s water supply four years ago. Despite hearing a panel of experts’ support of fluoride, the City Council decided not to put it back into the water, citing concerns about cost and the desire to let residents choose what goes in their bodies.
“I've talked to many of my constituents about this and they're not concerned at all,” Councilman Greg South said about the lack of fluoride in the water. “Others prefer not to have it.”
Piedmont dentist Ben Ingram brought other area dentists and experts from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Alabama Department of Public Health to the council’s regular Tuesday meeting. The panel of experts spoke for more than an hour on the benefits of fluoride, particularly for children, and on the research that supports its use in communities.
Ingram then presented the council with a proposed resolution to add fluoride and with documentation on how to get state grants for water treatment equipment. The council decided not to vote on the resolution, effectively upholding a council decision made last year not to put fluoride in public water.
“I'm not for it or against it,” Mayor Bill Baker said about fluoride near the end of the meeting. “If it had passed, I would have supported it.”
For 33 years, the city did fluoridate its water, a process recommended by various health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Association.
Jon Edwards, city chief water plant operator, said fluoride was removed from Piedmont water in 2013 because it became cost prohibitive and difficult to obtain from the manufacturer. Fluoride, which exists in nature, is formed when minerals bond with the naturally occurring element fluorine.
Edwards said the substance isn't cost prohibitive now but could be again.
“And a lot of people don't want it,” Edwards said. “If you put it in their drinking water, they don't have a choice.”
Ingram, who has practiced dentistry in Piedmont for 33 years, said it would be detrimental to residents not to put fluoride back in the water.
“I've seen fluoride improve the dental health of our school system,” Ingram said. “I've seen a definite drop off in the amount of tooth decay.”
Donald Norby, a Anniston pediatric dentist, said at the meeting that there aren't any credible studies that link fluoride to any health problems. Norby said fluoride is critical in preventing cavities in children.
“What else can you do for your community that means so much,” Norby asked the council. “I strongly urge you to do this.”
Ed Turner, general manager for the Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board, said at the meeting that Anniston has had fluoridated water since 1960. Turner said his board spent $51,000 on fluoride last year, equating to just $2.69 per customer each year.
“We’re in the public health business,” Turner said in support of fluoride. “Our concern is to take care of public health.”
Stephen Mitchell, director of predoctoral pediatric dentistry at UAB, said at the meeting that the fact dentists support fluoride shows just how important its use means to communities and their health.
“We should be arguing for you to take it out of the water because it hurts our bottom line,” Mitchell said with a laugh.