Two area water suppliers are adding a powerful cavity-fighting agent to your cup — or dosing it with a cancer-inducing neurotoxin.
It depends on whom you ask.
Water fluoridation has been a controversial topic for decades. Though strongly advocated as a public service by the mainstream dental community, it is opposed by some scientists and others who believe it does more harm than good.
And given the growing body of conflicting studies on both sides, it doesn’t appear that these differences will be resolved anytime soon.
Somerset County Water System Manager Chris Meyer said there is no doubt that when it comes to fluoride, there are two distinct philosophical camps.
“It is totally opinionated,” he said.
Most Somerset County water suppliers do not fluoridate — with the exception of Somerset Borough and the Greater Johnstown Water Authority, which sells to residents some residents in Conemaugh Township.
‘Effective and . . . safe’
The American Dental Association supports the fluoridation of public water supplies and has, in fact, lobbied to make this additive mandatory in states including Pennsylvania.
“That has not come to fruition yet,” said Rob Pugliese, communication director for the Pennsylvania Dental Association.
“We have the same belief as the ADA,” he added. “All the organizations — the ADA, the PDA — all support water fluoridation. That’s the same stance we’ve had forever.”
The reason, he said, comes down to results. He cited statistics from the Journal of Dental Research showing that those who lived most of their lives in fluoridated water communities had up to 30 percent less tooth decay than those who spent most of their lives in non-fluoridated areas.
“Fluoride is a proven cavity fighter,” he said. “It’s effective and it’s safe. It’s a natural element.”
According to Pugliese, it’s also cheap: A year’s worth of fluoride normally costs somewhere between 50 cents and $3 per water customer.
“It doesn’t cost a lot, comparatively,” he said.
“It really helps everyone regardless of socioeconomic condition,” he added. “We really look at fluoride as an access-to-care issue. You’re always looking to give people the best care they can get.”
Pugliese acknowledged, however, that high doses of fluoride can be dangerous.
“You have to have it in the right amount,” he said.
Dr. Martin Hogan — director of the dental general practice residency program at Loyola University’s Oral Health Center — stressed that fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral in some foods and water.