Area tooth doctors favor mass injection of water supplies by fluoride, but they’re keeping their lips sealed during the debate in North Hamilton County.
Soddy-Daisy dental couple Drs. Robert and Mandy Shearer decline to make a statement about fluoride, and Dr. Nick Bowman, in a nearby office, refuses to make a public statement about fluoride. All three attended a water board meeting in May to show dentist support for fluoride.
By David Tulis
These dentists leave fluoridation defense to Dr. Brian Schenck, head of the Chattanooga Area Dental Society, a man who speaks cautiously and succinctly in an interview.
“Our opinion is that we feel that keeping fluoride in the water system is advantageous to the health of the customers — the dental health,” says Dr. Schenck, a Hixson dental surgeon. “Fluoride has been shown over the years — which is 70 plus years that it’s been in public water systems — to reduce the rate of dental decay. And that’s why we feel that it’s advantageous to keep in the water.”
The North West Utility District board is voting July 19 on a recommendation by the general manager, David Collett, that it cease adding fluoride. His grounds are that the acid is not required by any law, damages equipment, risks the health of water treatment plant staff, and is put into drinking water without the district’s receiving legal immunity against litigation over health damage. (Please send a comment to the link above.)
Dr. Schenck is content with fluoride’s unquestioned drip into water pipes of 7,000 area customers. Its benefits should be delivered to individuals apart from any connection with or prescription from a dentist.
“We feel it is the best way for the public to be exposed to the benefits of the fluoride rather than having to go to a dentist to receive it.”
Yes, people get fluorocilicic acid by other means. Toothpaste contains fluoride, and dentists give fluoride supplements. “These are the two principle ways” apart from mass fluoridation, Dr. Schenck says.
Not a mass medication system
I ask him to discuss fluoride in the context of “mass medication as a policy priority serving public health.”
Dr. Schenck disagrees with the query at the outset. “I’m not familiar with your question.” Dr. Schenck says fluoride is not a form a medicine. “I wouldn’t call it medication. Fluoride is an ion that is found naturally in water at certain concentrations, so it is not a pharmacologic substance. So I wouldn’t call it mass medication.”
How would Dr. Schenck better describe fluoridation? “It is a public health initiative that alters the concentration of the naturally occurring fluoride to one that is beneficial to teeth.”
Does fluoride affect other bones in the body?
“It can,” Dr. Schenck says. “But I am not familiar with that piece of it as a medical doctor would be.” I ask about the comments in the initial hearing in which a dentist said fluoride alters bone growth in teeth, so would altered bone growth in other parts of the body be worth considering? “It doesn’t affect the bone growth in teeth,” Dr. Schenck says. “Because there’s no ‘bone structure’ in a tooth. A tooth of made up other calcified material, but not bone.”
Papers Dr. Schenck says he has read say fluoride can be incorporated into bone, but he has not read of “any significant effects” other than the mouth.
The dosage problem
I ask about the varying dosage problem — a small child gets a more fluoride per pound of flesh from two glasses of water than an overweight adult. Is there a peril of overdosage?
“From what I’ve read,” Dr. Schenck says, “there is not because the dosage that is effective for a 150-pound man is safe also in a small child. It’s a very small amount that’s needed to positively affect the teeth. So both of the amounts those two persons ingesting the water it’s small in both of those cases. It’s small enough for the child to receive the benefit,” the 150 pound man doesn’t need a greater dosage to affect his teeth.
I ask if adults need fluoride in the water? There is benefit to adults, he replies. The chemical becomes incorporated in saliva and bathes the teeth, fortifying their surface against cavities.
Neither the group nor his practice receive state subsidies for the promotion of fluoride, he says.
Fluorides are industrial by-products of the phosphate fertilizer industry. Fluorides used by water districts such as that north of Chattanooga are not pharmaceutical-grade fluoride products or medicines. Until recently, all fluoridation chemicals were obtained from the wet scrubbing systems of the phosphate fertilizer industry in central Florida, according to Fluoride Action Network. “In recent years, however, an increasing number of water departments have begun purchasing their fluoride chemicals from China.”