Oak Bluffs board of health weighs ending fluoridation

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Updated Sept. 26, Friday: The Board of Health took no action Thursday night.

This Thursday night the Oak Bluffs board of health (BOH) is scheduled to hold a public hearing and possible vote on the continued fluoridation of the town water supply. Oak Bluffs is the only one of the three Island towns with municipal water service that adds fluoride to its water, but for the most part, the significant public health debate has attracted little attention.

Chiropractor John Campbell, a member of the board and a staunch opponent of fluoridation, is the driving force behind the effort. Dr. Campbell cites health risks that include cancer.

Veteran Island dentist Garrett Orazem, a proponent of fluoridation, said any move to end fluoridation would be a “huge mistake.” Public health experts are in agreement on the benefits.

This will be the second public hearing on fluoridation elimination. The first hearing was held in the early afternoon on June 10, and attracted only three people, two of whom were ardent fluoridation opponents. The board said it scheduled the Thursday hearing at 7 pm in the library meeting room hoping to draw a larger audience. The meeting is open to all Islanders. “We’d like as many dentists to weigh in as possible,” health agent Shirley Fauteux told The Times.

Vineyard Haven dentist Dr. Helene Shaeffer questioned the scheduling of the two public hearings and how much input the board really wants from Island dentists. “The first hearing was during the day when we were all working, and this hearing is on the second night of Rosh Hashanah,” she said, referencing one of the Jewish high holidays. “I think their choices have been misappropriated.”

The practice, which began in April 1991, costs the town $15,290 per year. Currently, sodium fluoride is added to town water at all four pumping stations at 0.7 parts per million, according to Water District superintendent Kevin Johnson. The Massachusetts department of public health supports the Centers for Disease Control fluoridation range of 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million, according to a department spokesperson.

A big mistake
Dr. Garrett Orazem, a dentist on the Island for 33 years and staunch fluoride proponent, changed his off-Island plans to attend the Thursday-night hearing.

“I found out about this last Friday night when I came back from off-Island,” Dr. Orazem told The Times. “I called patients from Oak Bluffs on Saturday and Sunday and I’ll keep calling other dentists when my schedule allows. I hope the good people of Oak Bluffs will show up in substantial numbers and let the board know that discontinuing fluoride is a huge mistake. A lot of people aren’t aware that if they take it out, it can’t go back in without great difficulty. When a board votes to fluoridate, and enough people object, it goes to a public vote, and then outside agitators show up from all over the country and use scare tactics. It happened before on the Island in 1962 when Edgartown attempted to add fluoride to their water, and people were wrongly convinced that fluoride causes arthritis.”

Dr. Orazem said he has seen the benefits of fluoridation in his practice. “I know of a family in Oak Bluffs where a father and mother have a great deal of decay and have lost some teeth, while their two children grew up with fluoridated water and have shown barely any tooth decay between them,” he said.

Dr. Orazem discounts the notion that individuals who want the benefits of fluoride can apply the chemical ion with rinses and toothpaste. “I raised a family in Edgartown and I had to give fluoride to my kids every day,” he said, adding that his children, now grown, have had minimal tooth decay. “I’m a dentist, and it was difficult for me. I can’t imagine what it would be like for families with challenges. With fluoridated water, you can reach the entire community, not just a few.”

Junk science
Dr. Orazem studied at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine under Dr. Myron Allukian, Jr., past president of the American Public Health Association and former dental director of the city of Boston for 34 years. In an email to The Times on Tuesday, Dr. Allukian said, “Fluoridation is a sound, safe, public health measure with almost 70 years of positive benefits. Who are you going to believe, every U.S. Surgeon General since the 1950s and just about every reputable state and national health agency and organization in our country, or some junk science from the Internet?”

Dr. Allukian plans to participate in the hearing via speakerphone. In an email to The Times late Wednesday, Dr. Allukian confirmed that health agent Shirley Fauteux had contacted him and will dial him in to the proceedings at 7:30 pm.

Sarah Kuh, Vineyard Health Care access coordinator and director of Vineyard Smiles, a county-sponsored dental health program, also stressed the benefits of fluoridation. “Fluoride in drinking water was cited by the CDC as one of the greatest advances in public health in the 20th century,” she said. “There’s practically no downside to it.”

Ms. Kuh said a recent Vineyard Smiles visit to Tisbury School showed a “shocking” amount of tooth decay, with more than one student needing treatment for 7 cavities. “The science is on our side,” she said. “You can always find one outlier study to support a different point of view. What I would really like to see is fluoride in all towns, rather that taking it away. It doesn’t just benefit children, it also helps prevent caries in adults.”

No fluoride
Dr. Campbell chaired the June BOH hearing. Mr. Campbell did not return calls or emails from The Times seeking comment prior to tonight’s hearing.

At the June meeting, Dr. Campbell read from a two-page sheet that listed various objections to fluoridation, and he discussed the injurious effects of fluoridated water cited in various studies. One study asserted that fluoride increased levels of bone cancer in young males. Dr. Campbell also cited studies that he said show that tooth decay does not go up when fluoridation is stopped. In addition, Dr. Campbell asserted that there has never been a single randomized clinical trial to demonstrate the effectiveness of fluoridation.

Water district superintendent Kevin Johnson said he will not attend the hearing, citing previous plans to be off-Island. At the June meeting, he went on record as favoring the removal of fluoride from the town water supply. Mr. Johnson said he thinks the chemical is potentially toxic and that the money could be better spent elsewhere in the water district. He repeated that stance last week in a phone call with The Times.

Correction: Dr. John Campbell was previously misidentified as Dr. Bruce Campbell