Council votes 5-2 to keep fluoridation

Oxford calls committee 'stacked deck'; Brown calls term 'an insult'

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

Sept. 3, 2008 - Sulphur Springs City Council members voted 5-2 to continue adding fluoride to the water supply after hearing a report from a group of local health professionals.

But the vote came with some sniping between councilmen, with one charging the committee was a "stacked deck," a term another council member called "an insult" to the committee members.

Dr. Matthew Johnson, who has had a dentistry practice in the city for about 10 years, presented the findings of the committee, formed in July after Councilman Charles Oxford asked the council to vote on ending the fluoridation of the city's water supply.

Dr. Johnson was joined on the committee by Dr. Todd Conner, a pediatrician; Dr. Robert Parker, who retired in 2005 after 40 years of dental practice in Sulphur Springs; Lisa Sawyer, a licensed vocational nurse at Early Childhood Learning Center; and Trish Metrolis with CANHelp, which recently began developing a charitable dental health system for the community.

Higher levels of naturally occurring fluoride were discovered to be the common factor in communities with low rates of tooth decay around 100 years ago. In 1945, Grand Rapids, Mich., became the first city in the nation where fluoride was added to the water supply. Dr. Johnson said the program was "so overwhelmingly successful in reducing dental disease" that many other cities followed suit, including Sulphur Springs in 1967.

Dr. Johnson said that fluoride occurs naturally in the local water supply at about 0.3 parts per million. That amount is enhanced to 0.8 parts per million, within the range of 0.7 to 0.12 recommended by the American Dental Association.

Two retired dentists testified that they saw a direct correlation between the introduction of fluoride and a decrease in tooth decay among children.

Dr. Robert Parker was in his first year of practice in 1965 when he was approached by Vaden Richey, who was directing the Sulphur Springs Independent School District's first Head Start program, to perform dental screenings of children at Lamar Elementary School.

"I was appalled -- what I saw in dental school was not what I saw in Sulphur Springs," said Parker, who told the council he found "rampant tooth decay."

In the five years after fluoride was added starting in 1967, Dr. Parker said he saw a "drastic" reduction in dental caries, the disease that damages tooth structures, resulting in cavities.

Another retired dentist, Dr. Maurice Starkey, remembered similar problems when he began his local practice in 1957.

"Decay was rampant in the city," he said. "We'd see little kids that, when they smiled, all you'd see is black."

After fluoridation, he said, "we could see improvement to where there was practically no decay."

"Little children crying, swollen jaws, that could be [prevalent] without fluoridation," he said. "I can see no other way to go."

Dr. Parker acknowledged that his belief was not based on scientific study, only his observations, and that other factors can cause a drop in the incidence of tooth decay.

"But they don't happen in 4 or 5 years," he added.

"I would make a plea for our city not to go backwards, because that's what it is, a backwards step, and our children will suffer," Dr. Parker told the council.

"Community fluoride equals better health for our children, and that's the bottom line," said Dr. Johnson.

Dr. Johnson noted that there are concerns from some people about fluoridation, including toxicity.

But "out of thousands of credible scientific studies, none show health problems associated with the fluoridation of water," he said.

Dr. Todd Conner said the committee studied "credible, peer-reviewed literature" on the subject -- studies and reports that have been reviewed by specialists and scientists for accuracy -- and found "negligible risks involved" with fluoridation.

He said they could find no credible report drawing a correlation linking fluoridation to cancer, degenerative bone disease or other abnormalities.

"There was no a credible source I could find that showed that," Dr. Conner said.

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Dr. Johnson also cited a pronouncement from the Centers for Disease Control that fluoridation "is one of the top 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century," and that the U.S. Surgeon General has declared it "the most cost-effective, equitable and safe means to provide protection from tooth decay in a community."

Dr. Johnson also said the committee found fluoridation only costs the city of Sulphur Springs about $14,000 a year -- less than $1 per resident -- and cited a report that found each $1 spent on prevention saves about $38 in dental care expenses.

If fluoridation is discontinued, he concluded, "We would see dental diseases skyrocket."

"It's hard enough to get a dental appointment in this town," he said, drawing chuckles from the audience. Without fluoridation, he predicted, the rise in tooth decay and patients needing treatment would make access to dental health professionals locally even more of challenge.

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Following the presentation, Councilman Clay Walker made a motion for the city to continue fluoridation.

"Based on this report and the credibility of the organizations they represent, there's no question in my mind that keeping fluoride at the recommended levels is our only choice," Walker said.

Councilman Charles Oxford, however, immediately disagreed, asking the agenda item be tabled.

"We've only heard part of one half of the story," he said.

Oxford also indicated that he did not know the report would be given at the meeting until after 5 p.m. Friday, and didn't have time to put together a presentation opposing fluoridation.

"I am not a professional in this field, but there are people who are, and they cannot materialize [on such short notice]," Oxford said.

He also criticized the committee's composition, essentially accusing others of conspiring to rig the results of the report in favor of fluoridation.

"I am extremely upset that only people who were for [fluoridation] were on this committee," Oxford said.

Mayor Oscar Aguilar said Oxford had asked for such a study previously, but Oxford refuted the statement.

"I didn't ask for it, I consented to it. I did not consent to this committee," he said. "The committee was a stacked deck from day one, and everybody in this room knows it."

Oxford said he had studied the issue for nine years or more and has compiled a large amount of information on the subject.

"What was presented here tonight to me was nothing new and doesn't answer any questions," Oxford said.

"It answers them for me," replied Walker.

At that point, Oxford's motion to table the agenda item was seconded by Councilman Garry Jordan. The motion, however, failed on a 5-2 vote, with Oxford and Jordan voting in favor.

Walker's motion to continue fluoridation was then seconded. Before the vote, however, Councilman Chris Brown asked to speak, rising to the defense of the ad hoc group. Brown said he knew some personally and some by reputation and had the "utmost confidence in this committee."

"I believe they can look at this objectively. I think they've done a commendable job," Brown said. "To call them a 'stacked deck' is an insult."

Council members then voted 5-2 to continue fluoridation, with Jordan and Oxford the only dissenting votes.

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