News | October 3, 2011

The Great Fluoride Debate: Aspen Rethinks Fluoridation

By Kevin Westerling, Web Editor

The City of Aspen, CO, is currently considering a reduction — and perhaps elimination — of the fluoride added to its drinking water. During a recent meeting of the City Council, citizens and professionals spoke out on the benefits and drawbacks of the increasingly contentious practice of fluoridation.

According to the Aspen Daily News, there was a general consensus among council members to lower the current fluoride levels from 1.0 milligrams per liter of water to 0.7 milligrams. In January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services recommended lowering the levels to 0.7 milligrams "to balance the benefits of preventing tooth decay while limiting any unwanted health effects," particularly dental fluorosis. In arguing for the reduction, Lee Cassin, the director of Aspen's environmental health department, also indicated that increased fluoride intake could weaken bones.

Because of these concerns, as well as issues of public consent ("It's using water as a vehicle to mass medicate," said a community member), the option of halting fluoridation altogether is also on the table. In this proposed scenario, an alternative method of delivering fluoride — such as capsules — could be made available for those who want it. A third option is to maintain the current fluoride levels, but Dr. Morris Cohen, an advisor for Aspen's Board of Health, noted that the positive effects of fluoride are the essentially the same for 0.7 and 1.0 milligrams. As the debate continues, a final council decision will be made at a later meeting.

Supporters for fluoridation, which has been common in the United States for about 50 years, cite a reduction in the occurrence of tooth decay since its inception. At the Aspen meeting, two experienced dental professionals related first-hand accounts of fluoridation's positive effects. In addition, the federal government has recognized fluoridation as one of the 20th century's 10 greatest public health achievements.

While fluoridation is still the norm throughout North America, a growing number of cities are challenging the practice. Calgary voted to remove fluoride earlier this year, and an effort to do the same in Austin, TX, is ongoing.

Where do you stand on fluoridation? Is it for the common good? Is it ethical? Please share your opinions...