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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

An 'unnecessary' process? Waynesville stops water fluoridation

Greg Riegler

Around 1950, cities in the U.S began adding fluoride to the water supply as a way to reduce tooth decay. And ever since, water fluoridation has been a debated issue. Despite evidence that fluoride treatment is beneficial to oral health, the town of Waynesville, Mo. recently voted to stop adding fluoride to its water system. 

But ending water fluoridation in Waynesville didn’t involve activists, budget cuts or a heated debate.

Waynesville City Councilman Michael France said fluoridation wasn’t even on the agenda until an employee of the city’s water department invited France down to one of the town’s well houses, where the fluorosilic acid is injected into the water.

"When it's eating your pipes and scouring out the concrete in your well house floors, that tells you that it's pretty tough stuff," France said.

After seeing the damage, France says he immediately began collecting research from his local dentist, the American Dental Association, the Environmental Protection Agency and other organizations and experts. The council considered the issue for three months and then unanimously voted to end fluoridation after the current supply of the additive runs out.

"I only had one person speak up for it and they spoke up after the fact," France said. "In fact, most of the people around here wanted it removed."

Waynesville is the eleventh Missouri town to stop water fluoridation in the past 16 years. Most city councils cited the cost of fluoridation as the main reason they chose to discontinue to the service. And in addition to Waynesville, Buffalo, Forsyth, and Pevely all mentioned damages to city equipment and infrastructure when they decided to cease fluoridation.

According to Executive Director Gary Harbison from the Missouri Coalition for Oral Health, the city might be saving money, but the community will have to spend more.

"People, families, will have to spend more money on dental care as they begin to see the impact of not having fluoride in their water," Harbison said.

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every dollar spent on water fluoridation translates to almost $40 in savings on dental care.

The American Dental Association also supports water fluoridation and says it’s the most efficient way to prevent dental decay in children. The organization says ingesting systemic fluoride is important for tooth formation, while topical fluorides are needed to strengthen existing teeth.

The Waynesville City Council doesn't deny fluoride’s role in good oral health. But France says putting fluoride in the water is an outdated and unnecessary precaution.

"I get fluoride treatments every time I go see my dentist as well as in the mouthwash I use," France said. "Fluoride is present in so many products that people eat now-a-days. There’s ways of getting it other than through the water system."

Harbison said the problem with relying on other sources for fluoride is making sure everyone has access.

"It’s the only way to consistently provide fluoride and the protection it provides to all members of the community," Harbison said.

Hope Kirwan left KBIA in September 2015.
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