ISLAND FALLS, Maine — A slim number of voters decided by a wide margin on Wednesday evening to continue adding fluoride to the public water system.
Voters cast ballots 34-9 in favor of continuing the practice, Betti Jo Michaud, an assistant at the town office, said Thursday.
Many Maine communities add fluoride to their public water systems to help residents enhance oral health. It is a controversial issue because of conflicting reports about whether the practice has real health benefits, and the cost associated with it.
The Island Falls Board of Selectmen decided to present the idea of discontinuing water fluoridation as a cost-cutting measure.
Figures were not available Thursday on how much the town spends for water fluoridation.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring substance, and a small amount is present in all water sources. In some communities, including Island Falls, water system managers put additional fluoride in the water supply to help prevent tooth decay. Fluoride levels of 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million in public water are considered safe and effective levels, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Approximately 125 towns and cities in the state add fluoride to their water, according to the latest figures available from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency contends that fluoride protects teeth by strengthening the tooth structure and helping to prevent decay, even reaching teeth that still are forming. The CDC also says fluoride can help reverse early decay.
The Maine CDC maintains that everyone benefits from fluoridated water, especially those who don’t have dental insurance or can’t afford it, and those who do not have access to a dentist. The agency agrees with scientific evidence showing that fluoridation of community water supplies is safe and effective. The safety of fluoridated water has been studied for more than 60 years, according to the agency’s Web site.
Town Clerk Cheryl McNally, who was out of the office Thursday, said last week that selectmen presented information on the pros and the cons on water fluoridation at a meeting late last month. People asked questions and began weighing the facts.
Some research studies have questioned the effectiveness of fluoride in preventing tooth decay.
In 2007, Caries Research, a journal devoted to research on tooth decay, reported that even when fluoridated water is the most-consumed item, cavities are extensive in low-income Americans when their diets are bad. Researchers studied low-income African-Americans, 14 years old and older, living in Detroit, Mich., where water suppliers added fluoride to water to prevent cavities. Despite the fluoridation, 83 percent of the affected population had severe tooth decay, with diets high in sugars and fats and low in fruits and vegetables.
Similarly, an Australian study published in Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology in 2004 indicated that 4,800 Australian 10- to 15-year-olds had similar cavity rates whether they drank fluoridated water or not.
Seven area dentists, including five from Houlton and two from Patten and East Millinocket, spoke out in favor of continuing the use of fluoride in the water in a letter to the editor printed in Houlton’s weekly newspaper. The dentists said they recognized the necessity of cutting costs during tough economic times, but stressed “the best way to protect teeth from decay is by drinking and cooking with public water to which fluoride has been added.”