In a first-of-its-kind debate on Wednesday night two experts gave Phoenix residents a lot to think about before they drink their next glass of water.
Dr. Howard Farran, DDS, MBA, MAGD, an Ahwatukee Foothills dentist and one of the original proponents for fluoridating Phoenix’s water supply, faced Dr. Paul Connett, Ph.D., a retired professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology and director of the Fluoride Action Network, on the issue of whether or not the city should continue to fluoridate the water supply.
Phoenix has been fluoridating its water since 1989, adjusting the fluoride levels in tap water from .3 parts per million to .7 ppm. On Tuesday, the Phoenix Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, chaired by City Councilwoman Thelda Williams, will vote on whether or not to continue this practice. In order to give a balanced view of the issue a group of Phoenix residents asked the two experts to debate publicly at Phoenix College.
Farran said in dental school in Missouri in 1987 he had a hard time finding kids with baby teeth that needed root canals, a requirement he needed to graduate. When he moved to Phoenix and began his own practice he was shocked by the amount of root canals he saw in children. He did some research and found Phoenix was one of the only major cities in the U.S. that didn’t fluoridate its water. He became a proponent of fluoride and once the city began fluoridating its water he said the amount of cavities reduced drastically. Now Farran compares removing fluoride from water to removing Vitamin D from milk.
“I don’t want you to relearn the history lessons we learned 20 years ago,” Farran said. “We don’t want to take iodine, another element, not a medication, out of salt. We put that in salt and we got rid of goiter.”
Farran said the ocean naturally has 1.5 ppm of fluoride but the city’s water has around .3 ppm. In Phoenix that level is adjusted to .7 ppm. That fluoride in the water gets into the blood stream and helps build strong teeth, he said. Farran used mostly studies published on PubMed and quotes from well known groups like the Center for Disease Control and the American Dental Association to prove his points.
Connett argued that when fluoride is placed in water people are being exposed to much more fluoride than what is natural, which is the .004 ppm that is found in a mother’s milk. That overdose of fluoride can actually damage a baby’s enamel. If fluoride is affecting enamel Connett said it would be reckless to assume it’s not affecting anything else. He shared studies from China, India and Iran that showed lowered IQ and organ problems for children exposed to more fluoride.
Connett explained that fluoride is not a nutrient but a medicine. If it were a nutrient there would be a disease caused by lack of fluoride.
“It’s a poor medical practice to use the water supply to administer medicine for obvious reasons,” Connett said. “Once you’ve put it in the water you can’t control the dose. You can’t control who gets it.”
The two experts shared studies and debated the facts for over an hour and then answered questions from the audience. At the end of the night there were still many questions left unanswered.
The final decision will be made during the Phoenix Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee meeting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11. During that meeting there will be a presentation from city staff and public comment will also be allowed. The city currently spends $582,000 on fluoridation.
Williams, who chairs the subcommittee, was not able to attend the debate. She was chairing the City Council Formal Meeting, which took place at the same time. The debate was not sponsored by the city.
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