Are you willing to pay for fewer cavities? | News, Sports, Jobs

Customers of the Alpena water system are probably soon going to have input on whether to continue fluoride in the system’s water treatment.

The issue will pit the cost of the treatment against the benefit to the public.

Simply put: Are residents willing to pay extra fees to help reduce the risk of more cavities in their teeth?

Fluoride first was added to a municipal water system in Grand Rapids in 1945. Studies stemming from that decision showed “significantly lower rate of cavities” in schoolchildren after the process had been introduced.

Based on that success, fluoride treatment spread to many other water systems across the United States. As the years went on, municipal water fluoride treatments were heralded as an effective tool in the fight against tooth decay and cavities.

According to the American Dental Association, studies show that fluoride in municipal water systems can prevent at least 25% of tooth decay in community customers.

While the benefits of fluoride seem well-documented, questions regarding its future started being raised months ago as its price began to skyrocket for municipalities across the country. Alpena officials faced the same concerns as everyone as fluoride availability started to grow scarce.

As any student of basic economics knows, it is a classic case of supply and demand. As the supply becomes scarcer and the demand remains the same or grows, the price will increase.

While not mandated by the state or federal government to be included in municipal water supplies, fluoride treatment is supported by the American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a newspaper story this week, City Engineer Steve Shultz said that, currently, the city pays about $7,600 for fluoride treatment each year. That cost is anticipated to increase to $33,000, and, because the fluoride supply is limited, the new cost reflects a slightly different method of fluoride treatment.

If residents believe fluoride treatment is important in its water supply in the future, then they should be prepared to pay the extra costs that are going to be associated with it.

The issue is going to come before customers sometime soon.

It certainly is appropriate to start analyzing the facts surrounding it now and formulating your own opinion regarding fluoride’s future in Alpena.

And, while you’re doing research, remember that several tax requests for various issues will be on the Aug. 2 ballot this year. There is hardly a precinct in Northeast Michigan where voters will not have an issue to vote on.

That being the case, I urge readers to really familiarize themselves with the issues and how each issue would impact their home budgets. There is hardly a segment of the population that wouldn’t be impacted somewhat by the requests — everything from public safety requests to countywide youth recreational projects and veteran services to senior citizens.

Search The Alpena News archive for a recent story on the issues to determine which issues face you, then begin research on why proponents are seeking the money, the length of the millage, and how it would impact your tax bill.

Bill Speer recently retired as the publisher and editor of The News. He can be reached at

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