FAIRBANKS — A task force recommended that Fairbanks stop adding fluoride to its public water supply, which the city has been doing for a half-century to prevent tooth decay.
No fluoride should be added because city water already contains naturally occurring fluoride, and amounts higher than those levels could harm non-nursing infants, the committee said in a draft report.
Five of the six members of the group agreed with the recommendation, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Monday.
The committee had a tough choice between providing a benefit for most people and protecting a vulnerable minority, said chairman Paul Reichardt, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“The vote doesn’t really represent how conflicted all of us were,” he told the newspaper.
The committee was formed a year ago to study the benefits and risks and advise the Fairbanks City Council.
The group includes scientists, a pediatrician and a dentist. Their report is open for public comment through the end of March. A final draft is expected in April. The council could then pass an ordinance, take no action or put the issue before voters.
The fluoride issue has been a controversial once since it came before the council in 2008.
Opponents say fluoride does more harm than good, and that there’s no proof fluoridation has improved dental health.
“I think this is very good news for the community, particularly for people that have not had another source of fluoride-free water,” said Douglas Yates, educational director for Fluoride Free Fairbanks.
Fluoride is especially important during children’s formative years because it helps strengthens tooth structure, said Chris Henry, president-elect of the Alaska Dental Society. Rampant decay is a bigger concern than fluorosis, which is the main risk of too much fluoride and is mainly a cosmetic problem, he added.
“If this is taken away, the detrimental thing will be that people in certain socioeconomic levels, that couldn’t see a dentist in the first place, will no longer have that benefit,” said Henry, a Fairbanks dentist and orthodontist.
Local water has natural fluoride levels of 0.3 parts per million. The utility had been boosting those levels to 1 ppm, based on federal health recommendations, for years. It lowered the levels when recommendations were changed last month.
About 60 percent of the U.S. population drinks fluoridated water. In a recent 10-year period, 200 communities nationwide adopted or kept fluoridation while 100 communities turned it down or ended the practice, the report found.