KINGSPORT — The city of Kingsport has added fluoride to its water system since the early 1950s, an action taken like many communities across the country to help improve the dental health of residents. And while two local governments are considering removing fluoride from the water treatment process, Kingsport has no plans to change course.
A majority of public health officials throughout the world say that water fluoridation at an appropriate level is a safe and effective way to prevent tooth decay and cavities. Opponents argue that adding fluoride to drinking water has little to no effect, is a costly expense and takes away a person’s right to choose.
Kingsport spends approximately $45,000 a year on water fluoridation, bumping up the level of fluoride in the water from its natural amount of .2 to .3 mg/L to the state-mandated limit of .7 mg/L. The Model City uses hydrofluorosilic acid — one of the more common chemicals used to fluoridate water.
The acid is of course corrosive, but only as a raw material, and not in the amount added to the water, said Ryan McReynolds, assistant city manager for operations.
“The raw material is corrosive, but when it’s put in, the concentration is not,” he said.
The vast majority of water systems in the United States add fluoride to their water, explained McReynolds. Kingsport has done so since the early 1950s.
“There’s a movement among some systems in the last decade to consider if (fluoride) should be added to the water,” McReynolds said.
Two local municipalities — Rogersville and Jonesborough — are considering removing fluoride from the water treatment process.
The Rogersville Water Commission voted on Tuesday to begin that process with Water Superintendent Sean Hatchett telling city leaders that fluoride costs the water department $40,000 annually, that the chemical is corrosive and tat it has little health effect on the people who drink the water.
City leaders in Jonesborough are considering a similar move and first looked at the issue last summer, holding a listening session where residents had a chance to weigh in on the issue. A survey of water customers in Jonesborough slightly more than 50 percent were opposed to fluoride in their water.
Bob Browning, the town administrator for Jonesborough, said the Board of Mayor and Aldermen is reviewing all of the information provided to it and will likely revisit the issue in the next couple of months. Jonesborough spends approximately $13,000 a year on fluoride.
“It’s not a high cost figure for the town. The issue had to do with the pros and cons of the value of putting fluoride in the system,” Browning said.
The American Dental Association recommends the fluoridation of community water supplies, calling it the single most effective public health measure to prevent dental decay. Water fluoridation reduces dental decay by 20 to 40 percent and for most cities, the ADA reports, every $1 invested in water fluoridation saves $38 in dental treatment costs.
“I’ve always been a believer in it and that it’s good for the public. The low amount of fluoride and benefits outweigh the small risk,” said Kingsport dentist Chet Guest. “I feel most dentists believe that too.”