Fred Mogul, Reporter, WNYC News
Fred Mogul has been covering healthcare and medicine for WNYC since 2002.
A City Council member wants New Yorkers to brush their teeth – and not rely on the public water system to provide fluoride – for healthy teeth.
The city has fluoridated its water supply for nearly 50 years, and for the last 18 months Queens Democrat Peter Vallone has been trying to stop the practice ,which he believes can have adverse health effects.
“This toxic chemical is in everything you eat and almost everything you drink,” Vallone told a group of school children and other supporters on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, when the government says it’s good for you, everyone says, ‘It must be okay.’ Well, it’s not okay.”
City, state and federal health authorities have widely dismissed efforts like Vallone’s, which have waxed and waned since fluoridation was introduced in the 1940s. They say many elements are “toxic” in undiluted form, but fluoride in the water system is measured in the parts per million and is harmless.
“Whenever a public-level intervention is recommended to improve the health of the entire public, concerns are raised about independence, about opting in or opting out, about the role of government itself,” said Dr. Burton Edelstein, a professor of dentistry and public health at Columbia University. “But this is one of those things in science and public health, well grounded in science and well-established in history that does not need to be raised in doubt.”
Edelstein said fluoride is “almost magical” in its ability to prevent tooth decay, without any significant downside.
“It not only strengthens the teeth, so that they become more resistant to decay,” he said. “But it inhibits the acid production of the bacteria that leads to cavity formation, and it balances out the deleterious effects of sugar consumption.”
About three-fourths of Americans live in areas that fluoridate water. The New York Times recently reported that 200 jurisdictions across the country have stopped fluoridating water in the last four years.
Vallone said he only has the backing of five out of 51 council members to fluoride out of the city’s water system.
Denise Blostein contributed reporting.