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State dental head will discuss fluoride with Watertown City Council

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Dr. Jayanth V. Kumar, a dentist for 30 years and the director of the state’s Bureau of Dental Health, went to Walden, Orange County, last week to persuade officials there to put fluoride back in the public water supply.

On Monday, he will travel from Albany to persuade the Watertown City Council to keep the colorless, tasteless chemical in the city’s water system.

He was asked by a group of fluoride supporters and the regional dental society to come and make his case on why fluoride should remain in city water and how it helps fight tooth decay.

“You look at the evidence and it supports public fluoridation,” he said during a telephone interview Friday.

In recent months, Watertown Anti-Fluoridation Action, a group of more than 40 residents, has been attending council meetings to lobby the council to remove fluoride. It will be up Dr. Kumar to present the pro-fluoride side.

He said he believes the overwhelming evidence and studies prove fluoride is safe and needed in community water supplies despite opponents who argue vehemently to the contrary.

A certain segment of the population also opposes vaccinations, pasteurization and seat belts, he said.

“Fluoride is not unique,” he said.

About 72 percent of the state’s population gets fluoride through public water supplies, state officials said. The city began adding fluoride to its water in 1962.

As the Bureau of Dental Health’s director, Dr. Kumar is the state’s main spokesman on dental issues.

His department implements programs focused on preventing, controlling and reducing disease and conditions as well as promoting healthy behaviors. The bureau, under the umbrella of the Department of Health, coordinates local, state and federal resources to address, prevent and control oral disease.

Dr. Kumar, a former director and president of the American Board of Dental Public Health, has served as a consultant to many national and international organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and the American Dental Association.

Over the years, he has written many research papers and reports, including the National Research Council’s report on “Fluoride in Drinking Water” and the CDC’s report “Recommendations For Using Fluoride to Prevent and Control Dental Caries in the United States.”

The dental society wants his input, in part, to rebut Paul H. Connett, a professor emeritus of chemistry at St. Lawrence University, Canton, and the head of Fluoride Action Network, who recently gave a presentation to the council about fluoridation’s risks.

Dr. Kumar has heard Mr. Connett speak and knows of his work to rid public water of fluoride. He acknowledged Mr. Connett can be convincing, but he plans to be just as persuasive when he makes a presentation to Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham and the other four council members at Monday night’s work session.

In any given year, he goes to four to six communities to discuss the pros of fluoride, he said. In Walden, the Village Board voted 6-1 to return fluoride to the water supply, he said.

On Friday, he was told the issue has become the subject of many council meetings over the last several months, with council members appearing to be leaning toward eliminating it. In what has become a five-candidate race for two seats, the three challengers mentioned fluoride as an issue when they announced they were running.

Mr. Graham and Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith, who say they remain open-minded about the issue, said Friday they will have lots of questions for Dr. Kumar.

“I’ll be interested to see what he has to say,” the mayor said.

Mr. Smith wants to further examine studies on the issue before he makes his decision, adding he would like to know why the impact in communities that use the chemical and those that do not seem to be the same.

“I want to make sure we do the right thing,” he said.

The council work session begins at 7 p.m. in City Hall’s third-floor council chambers.

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