Seventy-six percent of Arkansans now are served by public water systems that fluoridate water at recommended levels as a result of a 2011 law, legislators were told today.
Dr. Nate Smith, director of the Arkansas Department of Health, told the House and Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committees that Act 197 of 2011 has increased the percentage of Arkansans served by fluoridated systems from 62% to 76%, totaling more than two million people. The law required all systems serving at least 5,000 customers to fluoridate their water.
Smith told legislators that fluoride occurs naturally in water but in most cases at less than optimal levels to promote dental health, which is 0.7 parts per million. It has been added to U.S. public water supplies for almost 70 years. He said 70% of the water systems subject to Act 197 are in full compliance and fluoridating their water at the recommended levels. Progress is being made on almost all the remaining systems.
Smith said communities that fluoridate their systems have at least a 25% reduction in cavities and save in dental costs. A Louisiana study of Medicaid-eligible children ages 1-5 found those in communities with fluoridated water had a third of the cavities and half the dental costs. He said the cost of fluoridation is about a $1 per person per year, and that fluoridating water saves society $38 for every $1 invested. He called it “one of the top public health achievements of the last 100 years.”
At high enough levels, fluoride can be toxic. However, he said that there’s no evidence that fluoridation has caused harmful health effects. Ten percent of children consuming appropriately fluoridated water will develop mild dental fluorosis, or white spots on their teeth that he said are not a serious problem.
He said that fluoridation is now so common with so many data points that researchers would know if it caused other problems. If fluoridation were to stop, it would affect poorer communities the most.
“Essentially all of the valid scientific organizations in our country have endorsed community water fluoridation, and none of them have opposed it,” he said.
Presenting an opposing view was Dr. Sandra Young, a recently retired physician from London, Ark. She said the research presented by Smith only described the effects of fluoride on bones and teeth.
“Fluoride on biological systems is extremely toxic,” she said.
She said fluoride causes neurological problems and lower IQ and can result in a wide range of other health effects, including hypothyroidism and goiters and can affect diabetic conditions and cellular communication systems.
She said studies showing the positive dental affects of fluoridation are outdated and biased.
“The fluoride’s benefit comes from topical application, not from ingestion. There’s therefore no need for us to swallow any fluoride,” she said.