Dentist: `Not this again’
When longtime Aspen dentist David Swersky learned that the fluoridation of city water is once again under attack, he groaned.
“I don’t want to fight this fight again,” Swersky said this week, maintaining that the city voters overwhelmingly supported fluoridation in 1989 and are likely to feel the same way today. That year, a movement to get fluoride out of Aspen’s water was squashed by the voters, 1,505 to 450.
As for Swersky himself, he remains absolutely convinced that fluoridation is a valid, effective public health tool that has prevented an untold amount of damage to young teeth across America.
Two local residents, chiropractor Tom Lankering and Rob Krakovitz, M.D., this week asked the Aspen City Council to consider dropping the program that adds fluoride to the city’s water supply.
The two maintained that fluoridation of water supplies is harmful to human health and unnecessary because people get plenty of fluoride’s cavity-fighting benefits from sources other than drinking water, such as toothpaste, processed foods and beverages.
But dentists, the American Dental Association, the American Pediatric Association and a variety of other organizations argue that fluoridated water is the single most effective way of ensuring that the general population gets those benefits.
And, the argument goes, the most critical point of all this is that fluoridation provides cavity-fighting properties to poor people and others who do not have adequate health treatment plans.
Swersky, who has been a dentist in Aspen for 30 years, said that the difference in tooth decay rates between fluoridating towns and non-fluoridating towns is significant.
“It’s night and day,” he said. “It’s not a subtle difference, it’s a dramatic difference.” He said that children who grow up in towns that fluoridate their water are found to have teeth that are less “soluble” from acids found in tooth plaque. Swersky said that is because the fluoride combines with the tooth chemistry and becomes part of the tooth’s crystalline structure, to form a compound known as fluor-hydroxiapatite.
Fluor-hydroxiapatite, according to the ADA, is far more resistant to decay than the compound that is the primary building block of teeth, hydroxiapatite.
Swersky said there is a 70 to 80 percent reduction in the rate of tooth decay among children who drink fluoridated water, compared to children who do not drink fluoridated water.
Plus, he said, adults who drank fluoridated water as children have less need for crowns, caps and root canals, because they had fewer cavities.
In response to critics who say fluoride contributes to such diseases as cancer and kidney malfunction, Swersky said that in places with high levels of natural fluoride – such as Colorado Springs and Lubbock, Texas – they have not found a greater incidence of cancer or kidney problems.
“It has always been an emotional issue, rather than a scientific one,” he said, adding, “I think dentists, by and large, are ethical people. We don’t want to hurt people, we want to help people.”
As for the critics of fluoride, he said, “I don’t think the population is fooled by some people who are basing their actions on hysterics.”
The City Council has agreed to hear both sides of the fluoride debate at a work session, the date of which has yet to be set.
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