It's probably not all that surprising that officials in oh-so-health-conscious Snowmass Village decided a few weeks ago to remove fluoride from the town's water supply, deeming that the additive offered more risks than benefits. What is surprising is that the humble villagers (median household income: $81,362) beat the residents of Aspen to the punch. It's customary for our much better-known, Gucci-padded wonderland to lead the state, if not the world, in banning plastic bags, barbecue grills, or factory-farm eggs, as well as similar fraught gestures designed to call attention to climate change, GMOs, Donald Trump and other global catastrophes.
But as it turns out, not everyone is happy with the Snowmass Village decision. As this studiously neutral report in the Aspen Daily News explains, town officials are now polling residents about whether to keep the ban in effect. The Colorado Dental Association has entered the fray, paying for ads urging the ban to be overturned, while local fluoride opponents are also advertising in support of the ban.
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It's a curious battle. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control lists the fluoridation of water supplies across the nation as one of the ten great health achievements of the twentieth century. It used to be that the most vocal critics of the practice were paranoids who considered it a communist plot — but Snowmass Village is hardly John Birch territory. The more contemporary argument against fluoridation claims that it's a form of over-medication that most European countries now shun, a relic of 1950s healthy policy that some believe can be linked to ADHD, arthritis and thyroid problems.
The dental establishment disputes many of these claims. About the only ill effect that seems to have extensive support in established research is that children's teeth can be discolored by overdosing on fluoride — something you want to avoid anyway. And while it's questionable whether populations whose water has been treated with fluoride have fewer cavities, there seems to be some logic to the argument that fluoridation can be of benefit to poorer residents, particularly in countries (like the U.S.) where state-sponsored dental care isn't universally available.
But do any arguments about poorer residents apply in the Snowmass Village debate? Probably not. After all, the help all lives up-valley somewhere, where the fluoride still flows.