Nearly two thirds of voters in the Texas County town of Houston decided to stop adding fluoride to the city’s water, but dentists serving the area are saying the change will lead to an increase in tooth decay.
Opponents of water fluoridation call it government overreach, and cited studies that question the long-term health effects adding fluoride.
But dentists who serve the region in southern Missouri are calling those studies flawed.
“What has happened, over time, is that because of the internet, what you can’t get published in a peer reviewed scientific journal is posted on social media as science,” said Joe Richardson, a dentist who has practiced in Houston since 1980.
Texas County business owner George Sholtz was one of the proponents of putting the measure on the ballot. "I was happy when the city council allowed the people to decide," Sholtz said. "The government shouldn't medicate the masses without their consent."
Richardson said numerous scientific studies over the past 70 years have proven water fluoridation is safe and helps reduce cavities by 25 percent. Most water suppliers add fluoride.
Richardson and other dentists are concerned that without fluoride in the water, tooth decay will be on the rise, especially among children.
“Whenever you look at toothaches in families who don’t have dental insurance or can’t afford good dental care, sometimes the kids will end up in the emergency room,” Richardson said. “That means missed days of school, and parents missing work to take care of their kids. It’s a real problem.”
Houston’s water works serves about 1,100 homes and businesses in the town of 2,000, with the water coming from three wells. Houston started adding fluoride to the water in 2002. Since then, Richardson said he noticed an improvement in his patients’ teeth.
“I’ve seen definite change in the last 16 years. And no, it won’t happen fast, but it will go back to seeing more problems,” Richardson said.
Fluoridation opponents attempted to get the city council to end the practice two years ago, but the council voted it down 4-2. But this past year with two new members on the council, the opponents brought in national advocates and convinced city officials to put the issue to voters who this month approved it by 62 percent.
“We stopped adding the fluoride to the water pretty much immediately after the vote because that’s what the people want,” said city administrator Tona Bowen. “It may take a while for all the fluoride to leave the water system, but we’re on our way.”
Richardson isn't ready to give up on the issue. He said the city can resume adding fluoride to the water, but it may take time.
“Yes, we will revisit it,” Richardson said. “It will take time and it will take change in city leadership.”
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