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State dental expert: fluoride is needed

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Dr. Jayanth V. Kumar, director of the state’s Bureau of Dental Health, recommended that the Watertown City Council not just listen to him about the benefits of public fluoridation.

Council members should look at the numerous national and international studies, expert committees and reports completed over the decades to form their opinions. Only then will they conclude that fluoridation is safe and that it fights tooth decay, the doctor told the council Monday night.

“I’m an individual,” he said. “I am biased.”

Council members took no action on the issue during Monday night’s work session. They are expected to continue their research for weeks, if not months. About 25 people attended the meeting, with about half supporting fluoride and the others against it.

For more than two hours, council members questioned the dentist of 30 years who has written dozens of reports and served on national committees that studied fluoridation. They asked him about the results of specific studies and his medical opinion about why Watertown should keep fluoride in its water supply.

They wanted to know why they should not believe a group of local fluoride opponents who have been attending council meetings for months to lobby to get rid of the tasteless and colorless chemical from city water.

Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso, who has been leaning on the side of eliminating fluoride, asked why she could find studies and reports that indicate it actually harms people who are overexposed to it.

“Return of investment,” Dr. Kumar said. “Fluoride is the best means because we know it reaches a large portion of the population.”

He cited a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that indicates that for every $1 spent on fluoride, it saves $38. Despite claims that fewer communities are using fluoride, Dr. Kumar said fluoridation is expected to grow in the state from 71.4 percent now to 78.5 percent in 2017.

Opponents could only sit and listen to the presentation. They did not have an opportunity to ask questions.

That frustrated Troy M. Walts, organizer of about 40 residents who belong to Watertown Anti-fluoridation Action.

“We could have stumped him,” Mr. Walts said later, adding that he researched Dr. Kumar’s presentation beforehand and had questions that would have been difficult for the dentist to answer.

He also never answered whether people are already getting enough fluoride without adding it to public water.

“He didn’t have the answers to a lot of questions,” said group member Jeffrey C. Ostrom.

The Jefferson-Lewis County Dental Society and other medical professionals brought Dr. Kumar to Watertown 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. Andrew E.C. Crossley, the outgoing president of the area dental society, was pleased to have Dr. Kumar make their case.

“I’m glad the other side was presented and he was so well-spoken,” he said afterward.

Calling it “ongoing,” Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith said the debate and research will continue.

“I don’t want to rush to a decision,” he said.

The city began adding fluoride to its water in 1962.

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