BROOKSVILLE - Fresh from his victory in Brooksville, dentist Johnny Johnson is ready to re-enter the fluoridation wars. This time he will fight for all of Hernando County.
Johnson said he wants fluoride in municipal water systems throughout Florida, and Hernando is one of the next challenges in that effort.
The dentist and self-proclaimed fluoride crusader plans to team with other dental experts at the Feb. 25 county commission meeting to make a pitch for the chemical - it goes by the technical name hydrofluosilicic acid - to be put in the water supply.
Johnson said he will try to persuade the board that Hernando should follow the city of Brooksville's lead by adding fluoride so that residents - especially low-income people - can have better dental health.
For much of last year the matter of adding fluoride to Brooksville's water spurred sometimes vicious confrontations before the city council, with people on both sides of issue passionately stating their positions.
Council members eventually voted 4-1 to allow fluoride in the water. Brooksville added the chemical Dec. 1.
Councilwoman Lara Bradburn was the lone dissenter, saying she was convinced adding fluoride to the water endangered people's health.
County Commissioner Jim Adkins said he has no opinion either way about fluoride but would welcome a presentation to hear the pros and cons.
"It wouldn't hurt to hear about it," Adkins said.
County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said he is neither for nor against fluoride in county water but is aware of the controversy.
"It's one of those subjects that draws a lot of interest from both sides," he said. "It should be interesting."
Commissioner Dave Russell said he needs to hear more.
"I really don't know enough to make an informed decision at this point," Russell said.
Commissioner Diane Rowden said Johnson and other dentists have approached her seeking a chance to speak to the board about the possibility of introducing fluoride into the county water system.
Johnson said he believes his presentation will be well-received by county commissioners after he gives the benefits of fluoridation.
He said he already has spoken with Rowden and plans to meet with the other four board members.
"My personal goal is that Florida will be 100-percent fluoridated in five years," he said.
Johnson said every credible health agency has come out in favor of fluoride, but their message sometimes is drowned out because of what he calls propaganda from the other side that relies on scare tactics to dissuade government officials.
Ultimately, it is the public that suffers, he said.
"Over half of the people in Hernando don't go to the dentist every year because they cannot afford it or don't have transportation," Johnson said.
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Ann-Gayl Ellis, public information officer for the Hernando County Health Department, said she will attend the Feb. 25 meeting and, if asked to give an opinion, will be ready to speak in favor of fluoride.
"(The Health Department) is definitely pro-fluoride," Ellis said. "Fluoride offers a tremendous dental benefit to a community. It's a very inexpensive way to prevent cavities in children.
"There is also some research that there are some benefits to bone development from fluoride," Ellis added. "It's definitely considered one of the top public health reach initiatives."
Joe Lemieux, former health store owner and government watchdog, said he, too, will attend the meeting and expound on the dangers of fluoridation, especially to young children.
Lemieux said he has read up on fluoride, and what he has found scares him. Many people are "incredibly ignorant" about the danger, he said.
Studies show the chemical can cause cancer in humans, he said, and that it can slow children's development and affect their intelligence.
"I just think it's totally irresponsible for a community to put this in the water supply without explaining all of the consequences it might have," Lemieux said.
Many dentists tout fluoride's benefits to dental hygiene. Lemieux calls that a smokescreen.
"There are a number of different cities that have taken it out of the water system, and it has not made a bit of a difference in people who suffer from cavities," Lemieux said.
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According to the Fluoride Action Network (FAN), 77.7 percent of Florida's public water supplies are fluoridated.
State law does not require fluoridation and use of the chemical is up to local governments. City councils and county commissions can begin or discontinue fluoridation at their discretion, or by a referendum vote, according to FAN.
Pinellas County commissioners in 2011 voted 4-3 to discontinue adding fluoride to the water supply. The following year, after continued debate about on the issue, the board voted 6-1 to reinstate fluoride.
Johnson spoke in favor of fluoridation during a board meeting in Pinellas County and, according to him, the meeting became boisterous.
By voting it down, "the commissioners decided to deprive our residents - most tragically the poor who are least likely to receive regular dental care - of the cavity-reducing benefits of community water fluoridation," Johnson wrote in an article published in the Florida Dental Association newsletter.
With Brooksville in his rearview mirror, he is off to the next battleground areas: the city of Wellington in Palm Beach County and Port Orange in Volusia County.
Then it is on to Hernando County.
The fluoridation wars, he said, are every bit as vicious as other hot-button issues, such as the abortion battle.
As long as fluoride amounts are kept to optimal levels - 0.7 parts per million - they are safe, he said. There is too much credible science available, he added, not to support the chemical.
"It's a no-brainer situation," Johnson said.