The Oak Bluffs board of health held a public hearing at 10 am Tuesday morning to get the temperature of the townspeople about removing fluoride from the town water supply. Leading medical professionals consider the practice to be one of the most effective methods of preventing tooth decay.
Oak Bluffs is the only town on the Island that adds fluoride to its water supply, a practice that began in April of 1991. It’s estimated that fluoridation costs the town $15,290 per year.
“Cost is the least of our concerns,” board chairman Patricia Bergeron said Tuesday.
The board decided to revisit the question of fluoridation at the request of board member John Campbell, a staunch opponent of the practice.
However, only three people showed up, two of whom were avid fluoride opponents.
“We need more input from the people of Oak Bluffs,” Mr. Campbell said. “We’re not going to ramrod this through like it was in 1991.”
Ms. Bergeron said she needed more time to investigate the matter. “As many articles as you find against it, you can find for it,” she said.
“If 95 percent of the people vote to keep it in, we won’t bring it up. But if the vote is close, we’ll put it to the town as a referendum,” board member William White said.
The small turnout prompted the board to agree to hold another hearing at a later date, in the evening, when more people can attend. Despite the board’s decision to punt, opponents of fluoridation took the opportunity to state their case.
Opposed to fluoride
Mr. Campbell, a chiropractor, chaired the Tuesday hearing. He read from a two-page sheet that listed various objections to fluoridation and the alleged injurious effects of fluoridated water cited in various studies.
Those ill effects included, Mr. Campbell said, increased levels of bone cancer in young males who drink fluoridated water.
Mr. Campbell also cited studies that he said show that tooth decay does not go up when fluoridation is stopped.
Mr. Campbell also stated that there’s never been a single randomized clinical trial to demonstrate the effectiveness of fluoridation.
Water district superintendent Kevin Johnson, who also favors discontinuing fluoridation, had a ready answer when attendee John Casey, a strong opponent of fluoridation, asked if the bags containing sodium fluoride were labeled “poison.”
Mr. Johnson nodded. “There’s a skull and crossbones on the bag,” he said. Mr. Johnson added that most of the sodium fluoride used in the Oak Bluffs water supply is imported from Japan.
Harvard is an advocate
In a telephone conversation with The Times prior to the Tuesday hearing, Dr. R. Bruce Donoff, dean of the Harvard school of dental medicine, spoke unequivocally in favor of fluoridation.
“I think it’s one of the greatest public health measures we’ve ever had in this country,” he said, adding, “The anti-fluoride groups are very rigorous in their pursuit.”
Dr. Donoff commented on a 1992 study that Mr. Campbell cited in the morning hearing, which asserted that fluoride increased osteosarcoma, a form of cancer, in young males by 680 percent.
“We’ve been involved in a huge study here at the dental school, supervised by Dr. Chester Douglass, on the safety of fluoride,” he said. “There was absolutely no evidence of any connection to osteosarcoma.”
“Fluoridation of water supplies at proper level is a major public health benefit and should be maintained to reduce caries [cavities] in children and to reduce the burden of dental decay on individuals and on health care providers,” he said.
Dr. Myron Allukian Jr., past president of the American Public Health Association (APHA) and former dental director of the city of Boston for 34 years, and faculty member of Harvard, Boston University, and Tufts Schools of Dental Medicine, also weighed in on the topic.
In a phone call with The Times, Dr. Allukian said the difference in overall dental health in Boston after fluoridation was dramatic. “Before we fluoridated, 100 percent of 17-year-olds had tooth decay,” he said. “We saw 17 cavities average. The change was dramatic after fluoridation, it was like night and day.”
Dr. Allukian said the toxic aspect of sodium fluoride is grossly distorted. “It’s toxic if there’s 200 to 300 pounds per million [pounds of water], not if it’s one pound per million,” he said. “For every million drops of water, you have one drop of fluoride.”
Dr. Allukian asked the people of Oak Bluffs to consider the science before casting a vote. “Every state health department, and every health department of every major city in this country would not support a major health measure that has any adverse effect on the population,” he said. “Are you going to believe reputable or junk science?”
Dr. Allukian said he would be happy to speak at the next Oak Bluffs board of health hearing on fluoridation via speakerphone to ensure that proponents in the medical community were heard.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Water District Superintendent Kevin Johnson as water district commissioner Kevin Sullivan.