EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- It’s not just two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. There’s more that goes into most drinking water.
Eau Claire started to fluoridate its drinking water supply in 1950. In 2016, the city added 7,460 gallons of fluoride to the water at a cost of $25,065.60.
In fact, in Eau Claire, there are five chemicals which are added at the city’s water treatment plant.
“We add the potassium permanganate to remove the manganese out of our water,” Jeff Pippenger, community services director for the City of Eau Claire, said to WEAU 13 News. “We add hydrated lime to make sure that it's non-corrosive. This is the chemical that, if Flint, Michigan had been adding, they wouldn't had the problem that they did.
“We add the chlorine for disinfection and we add ammonia to create a chloramine. The disinfection will last out in the far reaches of the system. Then, lastly, we add the fluoride to prevent dental decay."
It is the last chemical which has been the source of debate in some communities.
The history of fluoridation dates back to the early 20th Century, with Eau Claire starting to fluoridate its drinking water supply in 1950. In 2016, Eau Claire added 7,460 gallons of fluoride to the water at a cost of $25,065.60.
“We maintain the levels which, up until a few years ago, we used to have an optimal level of 1.1 part per million. We've actually lowered that down to a 0.7 part per million, because scientific evidence has proven that the population doesn't need an optimal level as high as 1.1,” Pippenger said.
“So, the city of Eau Claire has lowered the amount of fluoride we put in the water, but still to a point that it will prevent tooth decay."
A decision for a city to fluoridate its drinking water may not always be clear-cut. Chippewa Falls doesn’t fluoridate – and that may be because of politics.
Chippewa Falls mayor Greg Hoffman said the issue came up roughly a decade ago and studies showed it would cost between $30,000-$40,000 a year to add fluoride to the water – a cost Hoffman said was “doable” within the city’s budget.
A committee of doctors and dentists then came back and told the city they would recommend fluoride be put into the drinking water.
However, that did not mean fluoridation was green-lit.
“We talked to the public and easily 80% of the public – the citizens in Chippewa Falls – do not want fluoride in water," Hoffman said to WEAU 13 News. “That is the issue. They feel like we as a government entity are trying to subject them to another substance and they don't want it.”
While cities debate adding fluoride to the water, Eau Claire dentist Max Menacher, Jr. breaks out two X-ray scans to show the benefits of its use.
“Here’s a non-fluoridated scenario. I know this individual came from a working-class farm up north,” Menacher said, regarding a scan of a mouth with many cavities and missing teeth.
With the other scan: “Municipal system on the top here. This is Eau Claire drinking water. A couple fillings here or there. A couple cavities, but significantly reduced. A lot of virgin molars, with no cavities at all.”
Menacher has been a practicing dentist since 1988 and said, while the use of fluoride in a city’s drinking water is noticeable, is definitely beneficial.
"Certainly, when you go across the board and look at what the American Dental Association has done and their statistics on that – and for that matter, once again, the vetted science-based organizations that look into the safety the efficiency of fluoridation of water supplies – the record is just stellar," he said.
While traces of fluoride can be naturally found in water, Menacher said there are other ways for people to use it to ensure better dental care, such as in mouthwash, toothpaste and by adding fluoride tablets to water. Hoffman said this point is part of the argument against Chippewa Falls implementing fluoridation of its drinking water.
"I talk to many people who are very passionate. They say 'Greg, we just don't need it. I don't want a foreign substance added to my water to be forced. If I want fluoride for my kids, I'll take them to the dentist. If I want fluoride, I may have fluoride, if I want it home. I do not feel that it’s necessary that fluoride be forced upon us.'
“That is the issue. They feel like we, as a government entity, are trying to subject them to another substance and they don't want it."
Want or need, Menacher said however a municipality goes on the issue of fluoridation, he hopes people have the best – and accurate – information at their disposal.
"I think they really need to get out there and go to the accredited organizations that are going to give you information that has been peer-reviewed, that you know has been double-checked and it's science-based – not just opinion-based."