Local dentist, health officials ask village to rescind decision to drop treatment for municipal water supply
When Village of Saukville officials decided to discontinue fluoridation of municipal water in April, they noted there had been virtually no negative reaction in the community to the cost-saving move.
Trustees unanimously agreed to stop treating municipal water with fluoride (or fluorsilicic acid) partially in reaction to the expense linked to including treatment equipment at Well No. 6, which is being built in the village’s business park.
The municipal water utility spends about $4,000 a year on fluoride at its existing wells, although there would be even greater expense in installing storage and monitoring equipment at the new well building.
In addition, officials noted that only about 4% of the roughly 1.2 million gallons of water used by utility customers each day is ingested. That means the chemical in water used for such things as bathing and laundry is wasted.
Based on those facts, trustees chose to stop fluoridation when the current supply runs out some time this summer.
The Village Board heard a delayed reaction to the decision during the citizen comments portion of its June 28 meeting.
Dentist Jeff Dean of Sauk Trail Dental was joined by several public health experts in urging village officials to reconsider the decision.
“We would like to ask the board to reopen the issue,” Dean said, noting that the village action was based solely on cost to the water utility.
“The importance of having fluoride in water is not just that it is present, but that it be at the optimum level.”
Village officials said tests show fluoride occurs naturally in the local water source at a level of about .5 milligrams per liter, but health officials contend that is at too low a level to significantly improve dental health.
Health officials recommend fluoride be at between .6 milligrams and .8 milligrams per liter to gain maximum benefit.
Dean said fluoride has been proven to strengthen tooth enamel, which in turn fights tooth decay.
“That is a benefit not just for children, but for adults as well, especially older adults,” he said.
The cost, Dean said, is about $1 a year for each resident.
Ozaukee County Public Health Director Kristen Johnson said she was distressed to learn of the village’s decision to discontinue fluoridation treatment.
“Taking away fluoride treatment exposes the residents of the Village of Saukville to an even higher risk of tooth decay,” Johnson said.
That health risk is already high in low-income families, noting that Saukville residents make up about 15% of the client base served by the Ozaukee County Health Department although it represents about 2% of the county population.
“I am concerned about the decision,” Johnson said.
Joining the critics was Robin Kibler of the Wisconsin Oral Health Coalition.
“I believe your decision will be detrimental to the oral health of your residents. Studies show the condition of our mouth affects our overall health,” Kibler said.
She said studies show residents in communities that fluoridate their water have 25% fewer cavities than those that don’t offer fluoride treatment.
Kibler said another study shows every $1 spent of fluoridating water saves each resident $38 in dental costs and said health risks linked to fluoride have been debunked.
In addition, she said grant money is available to communities to cover the cost of fluoridating municipal water.
“I am happy we can take cost out of the equation. Dental decay has been identified as a silent epidemic,” Kibler said.
As a procedural matter, the Village Board does not react to issues raised during the comment section of its agenda.
Village President Barb Dickmann said it would be up to the board or Finance Committee to decide if the fluoridation decision should be brought up for reconsideration at a future meeting, suggesting trustees may need time to digest the new information.