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Continuing fluoridation in city water could cost $100K

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Editor’s Note: Due to local interest in the subject of whether to once again add fluoride in Lebanon’s water supply, The Wilson Post will continue this series in the Wednesday, Jan. 20 edition. In future articles, The Post will look at what other cities do and will also look at the possible health risks of adding fluoride to the city’s water.

By ZACK OWENSBYThe Wilson Post

Many local residents are raising concerns about Lebanon’s decision not to add fluoride to its water system, while others are claiming the cost is prohibitive to put the chemical back in the city’s drinking water.

According to several accounts, the cost to update the City of Lebanon’s Water Plant equipment to be compatible with fluoride would be between $75,000 and $100,000. And that figure does not include approximately $35,000 to purchase the chemical on a yearly basis.

This past summer, the Wilson County Health Council met to discuss the matter with members from local health departments, school administrators, doctors and concerned citizens.

Marisa Hunter, community health coordinator with the Tennessee Department of Health and facilitator of the WCHC, said the city stopped adding the fluoride to its water in September 2007 citing damage to equipment as the deciding factor.

The Health Council decided to send information sheets out to parents of county and city school children through their respective school systems. The hope was to notify parents of the change.

However, very few city residents got the message.

Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath became aware of the situation through a conversation with her dentist just a few months ago.

Warmath said the decision to stop adding fluoride was made by a previous city administration without the council’s knowledge.

“I would be very supportive (in getting fluoride added back into the water system),” Warmath said. “I think a lot of other people would be in favor of it, too. But I don’t think many other people know (fluoride) is not in the water anymore.”

And at least two other councilors agree with her based on preliminary opinions.

Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler and Ward 4 Councilor Joe Hayes initially said they would be in favor of such a change. Ward 3 Councilor William Farmer said he would be open to examine the pros and cons.

Warmath added that she intends to bring the issue up at upcoming budget meetings and at next week’s city council meeting.

As for paying for any potential upgrades, Warmath suggests that if the money was there a couple of years ago, it should still be there.

“We have about 9,000 water customers we serve. It would pay for itself in no time. This is a no-brainer. We need to work diligently to get this done.”

Even so, Warmath noted that the method used previously to add the chemical was called “dangerous” by Water Plant officials, and said that was another reason that adding fluoride to the water supply was stopped.  

J.C. York, plant manager at Lebanon Waterworks, said employees were handling the highly-corrosive fluoride with only a respirator for protection when it was still being added to the water supply.

The corrosive nature of the fluoride powder made it necessary to replace several windows and pipes, as well as repair interior walls and concrete floors where the powder made contact. 

York said in his professional opinion, he would not feel comfortable exposing employees to the powdered chemical as they were exposed in the past.

The $75,000 required for equipment would be used for an external, liquid-based fluoride tank, capable of being filled without exposing workers to the chemical if council decided to continue fluoridation.

Local doctors agree

Ever since the change to remove it was made, several local doctors and dentists have been writing prescriptions to their patients for fluoride.

Dr. Andrew Jordan of Cumberland Pediatric Associates said he writes prescriptions for children 6 months of age and older who aren’t getting fluoride from another source.

“I write (fluoride) prescriptions for anyone who doesn’t want cavities,” Jordan said. “The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) website recommends children under 16 to consume fluoride systemically meaning internally, for the promotion of strong tooth enamel and the prevention of cavities.”

Jordan said that internal ingestion is considered the most important form of fluoride consumption in children while their teeth are being formed under the gums. Once all the teeth have come in, Jordan said, topical fluoride in the form of toothpaste or mouthwash is adequate.

Children under 3 years old are given a small dose in a liquid drop form, while children 3 and older are given a larger dose as a chewable tablet.

But the most common problem Jordan said he faces with fluoride prescriptions is getting all of the patients to fill the prescription and take it regularly.

Dr. Tonia Porter of Porter Dental said she prescribes fluoride gels to be used with custom molded tooth trays to treat severe cases. And she provides the prescription for patients rather than requiring it to be filled at a pharmacy.

Staff Writer Zack Owensby may be contacted at zowensby@wilsonpost.com.

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