BROOKSVILLE - Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn said earlier this year, if the Hernando County Health Department was to present the benefits of fluoride in tap water, she'd like to hear the other side.
During Tuesday evening's water fluoridation workshop, Bradburn took matters into her own hands, and presented what she believed to be the dangers of fluoride in drinking water.
Toward the end of the evening, Bradburn held up a photocopied image of a cancerous thyroid and said this woman who had thyroid cancer could not afford to drink anything other than Brooksville's fluoridated water.
"That's me, that's why I have no thyroid left," Bradburn said.
Fluoride was added to City of Brooksville water from 1986 through 2011.
City council chambers were very much divided, with health officials on one side and the opposition on the other.
Public health proponents were invited to speak first. Pedro Lense, a dentist for the Hernando County Health Department who treats patients in Brooksville and Spring Hill, was the first to speak at the workshop.
Lense said the practice of fluoridating water is a safe and cost-effective way to combat tooth decay. Fluoride, a "naturally occurring mineral that binds the calcium" to the teeth's surface to make it more acid-resistant," was first added to community water in Grand Rapids, Mich.
"It's been 68 years of research and practical experience," Lense said.
"Of the thousands of credible studies on fluoridation, none have shown health problems with the level being recommended," Lense said, adding the "only risk that has been shown is fluorosis" - the discoloration of teeth, which usually manifests in white spots.
About 51 million school hours are lost on dental care, Lense said.
Also speaking on behalf of fluoridation were Dr. Johnny Johnson, a pediatric dentist who doesn't practice currently due to an injury, and Dr. Scott Tomar from the University of Florida, who answered questions asked by council members, including whether or not fluoridated water is safe for use in infant formula and those living with kidney disease.
When asked why better oral hygiene and fluoride-enhanced toothpaste doesn't eliminate the need for fluoridated water, Johnson said putting fluoride in the water is the "only magic bullet we have right now."
Johnson explained dental education works in countries like Sweden that have socialized medicine and dentistry, where four visits a year are mandated.
"We teach oral hygiene instructions to every single patient we see every single day . half the people in your county, and in Pinellas County, did not go to a dentist last year."
"I am not a scientist by any stretch," Bradburn said in the beginning of her presentation, but she "took the time" to read through 50 scientific studies on water fluoridation and check hundreds of references.
Bradburn said almost every one of those studies showed fluoride can harm different parts of the body and cause cancer, and there aren't sufficient water filtration systems that effectively remove fluoride from tap water. Holding up a wide binder with information provided by the health department, Bradburn said although the intentions might be good, the information "is obsolete at best."
Community members were invited to share their ideas on the issue. Angel Edfords, a pediatric nurse, thanked Bradburn for her "wonderful presentation" and explained how fluoridated water used to mix baby formula for her now 16-year-old daughter led to severe discoloration.
Local dentist Doug Roth, who has been practicing nearly 40 years and receives at least 100 hours of continuing education a year, said he had never seen a peer-reviewed article on the dangers of fluoride, and advised council members to look at "facts, not fear."
"The children of Brooksville deserve this protection," Roth added.
The city council will consider adding fluoride back into the water as budget season approaches. Fluoridation would cost about $7,000 a year.
Council members Frankie Burnett and Joe Johnston were in favor of adding fluoride back in. Council member Joe Bernardini said he had some issues to think about, and Vice Mayor Kevin Hohn said he wasn't convinced fluoride was the best way to prevent tooth decay.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Ann-Gayl Ellis of the Hernando County Health Department, said although the department does not agree with everything the mayor presented, "we respect the research that she's done and appreciate the passion she has for the topic."
Also on Wednesday, Johnson said that water fluoridation is supported by organizations, including the World Health Organization and American Medical Association.
"The opposition does not have any group of that magnitude or caliber that supports their claims," Johnson said.