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Two Florida cities take two different fluoridation paths

Clearwater, Fla—Tampa Bay area residents will soon see some changes in the availability of optimally fluoridated water, as Pinellas County stops fluoridating its supply and Plant City begins fluoridation.

IMAGE: Dr. Buckenheimer
Dr. Buckenheimer

The Pinellas County Commission Oct. 4 voted 4-3 to halt fluoridation of the county’s water supply by Dec. 31. Some 700,000 residents will be affected.

Pinellas County has fluoridated its community water supply since 2004. Fluoridation in the cities of St. Petersburg, Gulfport, Dunedin and Belleair will not be affected by the decision.

What began as a discussion to cut costs to the county erupted into a contentious debate about fluoridation’s safety and health effects and the government’s role in the choices of citizens, according to local media reports. Commissioners heard testimony from more than a dozen dentists and pediatricians who advocated for continuing fluoridation to improve the dental health of Pinellas County residents and lower the county’s costs for dental care for the underserved as well as speakers against fluoridation who discussed concerns about side effects, government intervention and cost.

The projected cost to the county for fluoridation for fiscal year 2011 was $211,060, said Robert M. Powell, director, Department of Environment and Infrastructure for the county Water and Sewer Division. Costs for fiscal 2010 were $182,409. Fluoridation costs for fiscal 2011 would have increased about 4 cents per person per year to about 30 cents per person.

IMAGE: Dr. Sabates
Dr. Sabates

“It is obvious that not all elected officials in Pinellas County have the best interest of their 700,000 residents at heart,” said Dr. Terry Buckenheimer, a Tampa area dentist. “Community water fluoridation has been recognized as one of the top 10 public health advancements in the past 60 years. The practice of providing optimal levels of fluoride in drinking water supplies is based in sound science. It was stated that the cost of providing this service was prohibitive. However, the cost breaks down to about 30 cents per resident per year, while the cost of one restoration in a decayed tooth of a child could be 500 times that amount. Perhaps it is time for the residents of Pinellas County to elect officials who educate themselves prior to voting on such important matters.”

A notice regarding the decision is posted on the Pinellas County website’s fluoridation page and will also be sent to utilities customers soon.

“Our community water fluoridation programs are vital to public health,” said Dr. Cesar Sabates, president of the Florida Dental Association. “It is important that community leaders understand that cutting these vital health programs will directly lead to more cavities or tooth decay. This is especially true for low-income children, who have little access to dental services.”

In Hillsborough County, the county directly east of Pinellas County, the town of Plant City is continuing to plan for starting up fluoridation by next fall.

IMAGE: Dr. Oldham
Dr. Oldham
In June, city officials unanimously approved a contract to fluoridate after securing $300,000 in grants to cover most of the start-up costs. About 34,000 residents will receive access to fluoridated water once the system is installed and up and running.

“Plant City made the right decision for the right reasons,” said Dr. Craig Oldham, a general dentist in Brandon, Fla. “The decision to fluoridate had been made several years ago, but the city council needed to find a way to pay for it.”

Dr. Oldham attended planning meetings and city council meetings as the representative from the Hillsborough County Dental Association and said the effort to bring the desire for fluoridation into a concrete plan was an organized grassroots effort.

“I attended the city council meetings in order to answer any questions or concerns, but there really weren’t many,” Dr. Oldham added. “The council representatives knew the science and the benefits fluoridation could offer the city. They were only hesitant until they made a plan to handle the costs involved.”

“The FDA and the Oral Health Coalition of Hillsborough County applaud the Plant City commissioners for approving the implementation of optimal fluoride levels in the drinking water of their residents,” said Dr. Buckenheimer. “They have shown a commitment to doing what is right for the oral health of their citizens for generations to come.”

The Suncoast News in Tampa Oct. 27 also ran an article saying the city of Tarpon Springs is seeking recommendations from its city manager on fluoridation as it prepares to build a reverse-osmosis water treatment plant. The report also says officials of the city of Dunedin are planning a town hall meeting Nov. 29 to discuss whether it should continue fluoridating its water.

For more information on fluoride and fluoridation, log on to www.ada.org/fluoride.aspx.

IMAGE: Important Notice to all Pinellas County Utilities Water Customers