Flagler County will no longer be one of the few counties in the state of Florida that does not have fluoridated water.
The Flagler County Commission voted unanimously at its regular Aug. 15 meeting to move ahead with a fluoridation program recommended by the county and state health departments.
There was little discussion of the matter among commissioners, and no members of the public spoke in favor of or against it.
“It’s about time for Flagler County to do something to prevent tooth decay — for children and adults,” Flagler County Health Department Administrator Robert Snyder after the meeting. “This is a very important public health initiative, and we are very pleased that the County Commission has taken this initiative.”
A total of 52 out of Florida’s 67 counties area already either fluoridate or already have the optimal amounts of fluoride naturally occurring in their water sources, Snyder said.
Nearby Jacksonville is one of about 30 Florida cities that has the optimal amount of fluoride — about 0.7 milligrams per liter of water — occurring naturally in its water supply, and doesn’t need to fluoridate.
Gainesville was the first Florida city to start fluoridating its water, back in 1949, and now, Snyder said, 77% of people served by a public water service in the state of Florida have fluoride in their water.
Fluoridation is supported by the state health department with grant money, and Flagler County would be eligible for $150,000 in state money to start its fluoridation program.
The change will affect people who live in areas that receive water from Flagler County water plants — the unincorporated areas, including communities like Plantation Bay and the Eagle Lakes subdivision.
But Palm Coast, Bunnell, and Flagler Beach — which have their own water sources — would not be affected by the County Commission’s vote to fluoridate the county’s water supply.
Those cities’ elected boards would have to vote separately to fluoridate the cities’ water sources. Right now, none are fluoridated, but Snyder has already started talking individually with Palm Coast officials about the possibility of adding a fluoridation program there, he said.
Fluoridation has its opponents, and has since it was first implemented in the town of Grand Rapids, Michigan about 71 years ago.
Back in the 1950s, Snyder said, opponents called it a communist plot. These days, they blame it for all kinds of other complaints: lowered IQ, various kinds of physical ailments.
There’s no science to back those claims, he said.
“There is no link between fluoride and these things that the anti-fluoride community espouses,” he said. About 3,200 reputable scientific studies, Snyder said, “have proven the science and the safety and effectiveness behind community water fluoridation.”
Scott Tomar, a dentist with the University of Florida who attended the meeting, said the anti-fluoride claims have “no basis.”
“All of these claims have been reviewed at length, and debunked,” he said. “We should be making public policy based on the best available science. It’s really not a controversy.”
Johnny Johnson, president of the American Fluoridation Society, said that “not a single reputable medical or dental association” opposes fluoridation.
Among fluoride’s proponents, said Snyder, are the Centers for Disease Control — which has listed fluoride as among the top ten health advances of the 20th century — and about 100 other dental and medical associations, including the American Medical Association, American Dental Association, the Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Pediatricians and the World Health Organization.
Fluoride’s opponents often say that the people who want fluoride can get it in their toothpaste or mouthwash, and that there’s no need to put in it a water supply where it affects everyone. But the benefit people get from fluoridated toothpaste isn’t comparable to what they get form fluoridated water, Fluoridation Coordinator State of Florida Department of Health Sean Isaac told commissioners during an Aug. 1 County Commission workshop.
“What you use in toothpaste raises the fluoride level in your mouth for an hour or two, then it drops back down again,” he said at the workshop. But fluoride in a water source helps keep the fluoride level in a person’s mouth at the optimal level throughout the day.
Fluoridation, Tomar said in the Aug. 1 workshop, leads to about a 25% drop in tooth decay, even with widespread access to fluoridated toothpaste.
It also saves money in the long run, said Snyder: By some studies, fluoridation saves $38 in future dental expenses for every $1 invested in the fluoridation process.
Among the Florida municipalities recently grappling with the topic of fluoridation are Collier County, which recently voted to keep it, and Wellington and Lake City, which voted to restart fluoridation programs.
“We’re supporting Flagler County getting it, and then keeping it,” Isaac said after the meeting Aug. 15.
BOX: WHAT WILL PALM COAST DO?
Flagler County Health Department Administrator Robert Snyder has spoken individually with city of Palm Coast officials about fluoridating the city’s water, but has decided to put those conversations off until after the upcoming general election.
Still, some council members spoke out about fluoridation after the Flagler County Commission voted Aug. 15 to approve fluoridation for areas served by the Flagler County water supply.
“These days we can get fluoride on many different ways. So we have options,” Palm Coast City Councilwoman Heidi Shipley wrote in an email to the Palm Coast Observer, after noting that she’d grown up with fluoride in her water. “I don’t feel it’s my place as a City Council member to tell people what they have to ingest. Water is a necessity and therefore I would be imposing my opinion on everyone. I do not feel that government should decide what your children drink. People know the benefits of fluoride and I’m sure dentists tell parents their views. The choice ends there.”
At a City Council meeting Aug. 16, Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts spoke of fluoridation’s benefits.
“I can certainly give you my opinion, my understanding, as a trained biologist,” he said. “The vast majority of Florida already has fluoridation, has fluoride in the water. Jacksonville, for example: Its water supply has natural occurring fluoride in the appropriate, optimal amounts. There is statistical data that shows tooth decay, or caries, far less in Jacksonville than in areas where you do not have the optimal amount of fluoride. Over the years, going back to the ’40s and ’50s, there has been outcry about, ‘Oh, fluoride is poisonous.’ Well, so is chlorine. They’re all in the same family of chemicals. But there’s no question that where fluoride is in the water there is a reduction in tooth decay — and, I just found out recently, not just in children, but … there is significant evidence that fluoridation helps prevent dental decay in the elderly.”