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Dentists come together in east Florida to defend community water fluoridation

Melbourne City Council votes 4-3 to continue practice that has been in place since 1966

December 12, 2019

By David Burger

 image of fluoridation icon
Melbourne, Fla. — A councilman who missed an earlier city council vote meeting cast the deciding, tie-breaking vote in a 4-3 decision that will continue community fluoridation for 181,000 Brevard County residents on the east coast of Florida.

“It was a movement of positive energy by the local community,” said Dr. Johnny Johnson Jr., a pediatric dentist and president of the American Fluoridation Society. “I was very proud to be a part of it.”

It was the third time in 2019 that the Melbourne City Council took a vote on ending community water fluoridation. In January, the council approved the continuation of fluoridation, but took up the issue again later in the year, with the vote tied until the absent councilman returned on Nov. 26 to break the tie.

The city has been adding fluoride to its drinking water since 1966.

Bailey John
Dr. Bailey
Dr. John Bailey, a dentist in the neighboring community of West Melbourne, hailed the outpouring of support from young local physicians and dentists who lobbied the council.  

“There’s too many people who don’t pay attention and sit back,” Dr. Bailey said, adding that doctors such as Brevard County pediatric dentist Dr. Yoshita Patel Hosking bucked that trend and were able to convince enough councilmembers about the devastating effects on local children’s teeth in the event that fluoridation was discontinued.

“The coordination of health care providers, anesthesiologists and so many others was nothing short of stellar,” Dr. Johnson said. “The local professional community, especially the young professionals, stood up mostly for their first fight ever and sunk their teeth into the pseudoscience that was flowing outwards. Dr. Patel is the future of what we're doing. I wish I'd had that fire when I was her age.”

Dr. Patel admitted that she was relatively new to political activism on behalf of fluoridation, but said she became frustrated when anti-fluoride activists began “skewing” evidence-based dentistry and scientific evidence in media op-eds and at council meetings. She sees the benefits of fluoridation every day in her practice, and worries about other children who don’t visit the dentist.

“The ones that are affected the most are those who aren’t going to see a dentist regularly,” Dr. Patel told ADA News after the vote. She goes by the name of Dr. Patel to avoid confusion regarding her dentist husband, who goes by the name of Dr. Hosking.

 Patel Hosking Yoshita
Dr. Patel
Dr. Patel said a unified front of both physicians and dentists is needed to confront the faulty and discredited studies that anti-fluoridation advocates presented at the council meetings. One problem encountered in Melbourne, she said, was a particular dentist who wrote an op-ed in the local paper and spoke up in the meeting, saying he believed that water fluoridation was harmful, confusing the councilmembers and sowing distrust about whom to believe.

“The concerns the city councilmen had were regarding systemic issues and would be easily countered by medical professionals,” Dr. Patel said. “They don’t believe dentists, unfortunately, and systemic disease isn’t our specialty. The anti-fluoride group has low-quality studies and Google searches as their support, so if we can get board-certified physicians to help us, that would be the most effective way to fight this.”

Dr. Johnson said the issue was brought up in the first place because of a resident that repeatedly petitioned the council to take up a vote. Once the council eventually brought up the issue, one anti-fluoridation advocate claimed that her acne was the result of fluoridated water.

“Any dermatologist would say that’s impossible,” Dr. Johnson said.

Dr. Rudy Liddell, chair of the ADA Council on Dental Practice and president of the Florida Dental Association, was one of the dentists who wrote a letter to the council about the threat to fluoridation.

“On behalf of the health and well-being of the citizens in your community, I ask that you vote to keep fluoridating your water supply,” Dr. Liddell wrote. “Throughout 70 years of research and practical experience, the overwhelming weight of credible scientific evidence consistently indicates that fluoridation of community water supplies is the single most effective, safe and cost-effective public health measure to prevent dental decay and repair early tooth decay. For many people who live in small towns and don’t have access to routine dental care, community water fluoridation provides some layer of protection to help fight dental caries.”

 Johnson Johnny
Dr. Johnson
The letter continued: “Fluoridation also benefits middle-aged adults with reductions in tooth decay that occurs on tooth enamel surfaces and on root surfaces that become exposed as gums recede. Compared to the cost of dental treatment, community water fluoridation provides cost savings. In fact, the average lifetime cost per person to fluoridate a water system is less than the cost of one dental filling. For most cities, every $1 invested saves $38-43 in dental treatment costs.”

Despite the recent vote, Drs. Patel, Johnson and Bailey all predicted that anti-fluoride activists will continue to press for a change, with some of the councilmembers remarking that perhaps a referendum be floated next year to ask residents to vote on the practice.

“We are eerily close to losing fluoride from Melbourne’s drinking water,” Dr. Patel said despite the recent vote. “We should really make a solid effort to change [councilmembers’] minds using the resources we have. We need to prep the physicians ahead of time and give them the opportunity to represent their specialties armed with the science behind our recommendations.”

For information on community water fluoridation, visit ADA.org/fluoride.