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A tale of two boroughs

Fluoridation succeeds in one Pennsylvania community, defeated in another

September 09, 2019

By David Burger

Shippensburg, Pa. — The Shippensburg Borough Council decided to continue its community water fluoridation program despite threats of ending the practice in early September.

It was months after the neighboring town of Quarryville voted to nix fluoridation in its water supply, with proponents rallying and lobbying local officials in both Pennsylvania communities.

 Dr. Davis
Dr. Davis
Shippensburg, with a population of 5,500, is about 150 miles west of Philadelphia, in southern central Pennsylvania. Quarryville, with a population of 2,500, is about 60 miles west of Philadelphia, in the eastern part of the Keystone State.

The Shippensburg meeting in which continuing fluoridation was essentially approved showcased a powerful alliance, said Dr. Gary S. Davis, an ADA member dentist in Shippensburg and Pennsylvania Dental Association trustee, although the first notice about a possible termination to fluoridation came only two weeks before the vote.

“The attendance from the dental community, the medical community and from all those that were contacted by the Pennsylvania Coalition for Oral Health and from the Pennsylvania Dental Association was amazing,” said Dr. Davis. “We had around 50 pro-fluoride supporters at the meeting. And the testimony in favor of fluoridation was amazing, informative and very valid.”

He added that he received additional support from the local Cumberland Valley Dental Society and that the ADA was instrumental in sending him the latest science-based facts about the safety and efficacy of fluoridated water.

Dr. Davis was gratified by the outcome — the issue did not even come up for a vote — and hoped another threat to fluoridation doesn’t come soon. Shippensburg residents faced a similar challenge to community water fluoridation in 2012.

“I believe the community came out because they believe in the benefits of fluoride and they care about their children and our senior population,” he said.

The vote in Quarryville was dispiriting for fluoride advocates, with a decisive three members of the five-member water authority (appointed by the borough council) voting to discontinue water fluoridation, said Dr. Thomas Regan, an ADA member and retired dentist in the community.

“I think that Quarryville wanted to end community water fluoridation because of an underlying suspicion of fluoridation coupled with pushback on governmental interference with local government,” Dr. Regan said. “The [chair] referred to community water fluoridation as ‘forced medication.’  The chair said, ‘We should have done it years ago.’ They certainly didn’t understand it and thought it was a nuisance.”

Dr. Regan said he and the Quarryville community, too, were given little notice that termination was imminent.

“I got a letter with the water bill for my office in Quarryville stating that the water authority was going to discontinue community water fluoridation,” Dr. Regan said. “The reason stated in the letter was that fluoride was readily available from other sources and was no longer needed in the public water supply. The notification came about eight to 10 days prior to the meeting at which they were going to vote to remove.”

 Dr. Regan
Dr. Regan
Shippensburg and Quarryville were not the only Pennsylvania communities faced with opposition to fluoride this year.

Earlier this year, the West Manchester Township Board of Supervisors was notified that the Shiloh Water Authority has decided to move forward with the removal of fluoride from the water system without the board’s approval, according to the township’s website. “Township staff has verified with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that approval from the local legislative body is not required, as first requested by the Shiloh Water Authority,” the website said. “The board of supervisors previously made a recommendation to the Shiloh Water Authority that fluoride not be removed from the water system until more compelling information be presented to substantiate this change.”

Ms. Marsh said a coordinated response to the West Manchester situation “knocked it out of the park” by being “able to remove the issue entirely with their testimony and our network’s support and response.” She said it was the second time in eight years that fluoridation was endangered in that area.

“Pennsylvania has been heavily targeted by anti-fluoridation efforts for several years now,” she said.

Ultimately, there is a message for other dental professionals, Dr. Davis said, when fluoride comes up for deliberation.

“I believe each community is unique and we have to listen to each community's concerns and work with the community to help them solve the issues,” he said. “I also believe that dentists need to be active in their communities and have ongoing conversations and relationships with members of the local water authorities.”

The ADA has endorsed the fluoridation of community water supplies as safe, effective and necessary in preventing tooth decay since 1950. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral similar to salt.

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