THE DECADES-OLD battle over adding fluoride to drinking water continues to rage in Cumberland, where the cavity-fighting chemical will go into the municipal system this month.
Study after study shows that children drinking fluoridated water have fewer cavities and related dental problems. The Centers for Disease Control lists water fluoridation among the top public health achievements of the 20th century. Almost two-thirds of Americans drink water from systems that add fluoride.
In the Cumberland area, there is strong legal opposition to fluoride. Voters approved a ban in 1962, which was lifted briefly in 1988 by city officials and then reimposed by popular vote. Last year, voters repealed the fluoride ban.
Opponents of using the cavity fighter now focus on the safety of the specific fluorine compound that will be added to water near the Pennsylvania reservoirs that supply the Cumberland area. But their rhetoric still seems based on old fears of adding medication to the public water supply.
The dosage of fluoride must be controlled; high amounts can cause discolored tooth enamel. More serious effects claimed by fluoride foes over the past century have not been proven. Equipment installed by the Cumberland system will carefully limit fluoride input, even in an accident.
Western Maryland has one of the highest rates of cavities in the state. Allegany has the highest level of poverty of any county in Maryland. Fluoridated water delivers dental care to those who can't afford it. So this step should be a cause for celebration rather than division in a community that deserves better dental health.