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GUEST EDITORIAL: Fluoride’s benefits settled; grin and bear it

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TNS

It’s been called “one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So why isn’t every public water system in America adding fluoride to its drinking water? That’s a question that has been asked consistently by public health officials and dentists since the fluoridation wars began in the mid 1940s.

And it’s being asked again in Boynton Beach, which is nearing completion of a $30-million upgrade of its aging water treatment plant that won’t fluoridate the system until sometime in 2018 — once all construction is finished — and hasn’t done so for the past year. Public health officials long ago declared fluoridation a highly cost effective approach to fighting tooth decay. Adding minute quantities of the chemical to water strengthens enamel, which enhances resistance to decay. Boosting the natural level of about 0.4 parts per million to 0.7 has proven to be a major weapon in the fight against tooth decay.

As reported Monday in the Sun Sentinel, Johnny Johnson, a former pediatric dentist and president of the nonprofit American Fluoridation Society, recently contacted Boynton to urge the city to reintroduce fluoride soon. “You drink the water, it does the job,” he said. Yet many Floridians oppose the practice. Statewide, 77 percent of the water supply is treated. Broward and Miami-Dade fluoridate 98 percent of their water systems. Palm Beach County reaches only 64.7 percent of its population and Boca Raton stopped fluoridating its water in 1999.

Twenty Florida counties are 100 percent fluoride free, which helps bring down the statewide average.

Opponents of this common sense approach to a significant public health problem reject it as a government overreach that takes a medical decision out of the citizen’s hands. And they question the science behind it as well; fluoride could do undetected harm, they suggest.

In Pinellas County fluoridation became a tea party cause. In 2011 the county commission voted to stop the county’s fluoridation program after a bitter fight. Pinellas became the most populous county in Florida to go fluoride free. A year later the 4-3 vote to stop fluoridation was reversed by a 6-1 vote of a newly elected majority. Pinellas came to its senses.

We regard this as a “case closed” issue. The science of fluoridation is as settled as science can be. The health benefit is undisputed save for a small but vocal group of deniers. It’s time to declare victory and move on.