SHERIDAN — As the city of Sheridan prepares to conduct a community survey on whether to continue treating its drinking water with fluoride, public health officials are urging residents to support the practice.
Community water fluoridation is the controlled adjustment of fluoride, which occurs naturally in many water supplies, to achieve an optimal dosage to prevent tooth decay.
Sheridan began adding fluoride to its drinking water in 2015 to achieve a concentration of .7 parts per million, the dosage recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Dental Association and the World Health Organization. Fluoride also occurs naturally in water and, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the maximum allowable level of naturally occurring fluoride in drinking water is 4.0 ppm.
The toxicity of any substance is largely dose-dependent; consider the effect of taking one Aspirin compared to swallowing an entire bottle. Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and epidemiologist in the Wyoming Department of Health’s Public Health Division, said an overwhelming body of research supports the safety of a low concentration of fluoride in drinking water.
“The levels of fluoride that are in public water has been very well studied,” Harrist said. “The (recommended level) is safe and is not associated with any serious health effects.”
Further, Harrist said adjusting the levels of fluoride in public drinking water is an effective preventative health measure.
“Public water fluoridation is a very effective and safe public health intervention to prevent dental caries, or cavities, among both children and adults,” Harrist said. “In fact, it was named by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the top 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th Century.”
Sheridan County Public Health Director Debra Haar said she also supports the continued fluoridation of the community’s water and said because Sheridan has been treating its water for a relatively short period of time, it may take years to fully measure the effect that treatment has had.
“The results in fluoridation aren’t seen in the immediate, surrounding years as soon as it starts,” Haar said. “It’s a long-term effect that you’re looking for. If you look at the rates and the effect that it’s had on other communities that have been able to be studied for longer, and see what the effects are that way, that’s where you can see the improvements and enhancements in people’s health from a long-term perspective.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 75 percent of the communities in the United States fortify their water with fluoride. Since water fluoridation began in 1945, countless studies have concluded that communities that have fluoridated water have seen a 25 percent decrease in tooth decay, according to the American Dental Association.
However, Harrist said the long-term preventative benefits are crucial, especially from a cost perspective as reductions in state funding have led to the elimination of programs like the Wyoming Department of Health’s Oral Health Program.
“Water fluoridation has also been shown to be a cost-effective method that saves health care costs over the cost of program operations,” Harrist said. “And it’s a way to ensure that every member of the community has access to this benefit.”
Sheridan will begin mailing confidential surveys to water customers of the city of Sheridan, the Sheridan Area Water Supply Joint Powers Board and the Downer Neighborhood Improvement and Service District starting on March 11 and continue distributing them through April 3. The surveys will be included in customers’ utility bills, if they receive them, or in separate mailers. Customers must return their surveys by mail using the business reply mail envelope provided or hand deliver them to Jim Schellenberger at Frontier Asset Management on Loucks Street; responses must be postmarked on or before April 19 or hand delivered by 5 p.m. on April 22.
The results of the survey will be presented to city council at its May 6 meeting.