SOUTH BEND — A northern Indiana health official is urging three towns that stopped adding fluoride to their drinking water to resume mixing the cavity-fighting mineral into their water.
St. Joseph County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Felger said the actions by Lakeville, North Liberty and Walkerton threaten to "reverse the tremendous advances in dental health" achieved over the past 60 years in using fluoride to reduce cavities.
In a statement released Thursday, Felger noted that when added to public drinking water, fluoride has been shown to reduce the number of cavities in children by up to 60 percent and to also reduce the number of cavities in adults.
"I do not believe the town councils were provided with best scientific and medical information prior to making their decisions," Felger said.
The South Bend Tribune reported Friday that the town councils in Lakeville, Walkerton and North Liberty voted this spring to stop adding fluoride to their drinking water. The towns made their moves independently and for different reasons.
Walkerton, which provides drinking water to about 850 customers, stopped adding fluoride due to fears of overexposure to the mineral, said Karol Jackson, president of the town council. She said fluoride is now widely available, and is also in the water that students drink at the local school district that includes Walkerton and North Liberty.
"It's also in toothpaste, and some naturally occurs in the groundwater — not at the recommended level, but that level's always changing," Jackson said.
Felger said fears of too much fluoride in drinking water are unfounded.
Lakeville and North Liberty, which provide drinking water to a combined 1,000 or so customers, stopped adding fluoride to their water due to cost concerns.
"It was not us trying to say (fluoride) is healthy or unhealthy," said Jayson Kincaid, president of the North Liberty Town Council. "It just came down to dollars and cents."
Kincaid said that North Liberty did not want to pass the additional cost on to its water customers after Walkerton — with whom the town had formerly bought fluoride in bulk — decided to stop adding the mineral to its water.
"When that community stopped, it became very expensive," Kincaid said.
Lakeville Town Council President Martha Tyler said the town's decision to stop adding fluoride is expected to save water customers there a combined $2,000 or so a year.
"I know it doesn't sound like a lot, but we're a small town and we're trying to keep our (water) rates low," Tyler said.
She said the town looked at the pros and cons of adding or not adding fluoride to its drinking water, and decided it would be fine to stop because the local school corporation still adds fluoride to its drinking water.