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Fifty years after the federal government urged cities to add fluoride to water supplies to prevent tooth decay, officials are now reducing the recommended amount of the chemical compound in drinking water.

The change won't apply to York Water Co., which doesn't add fluoride to the majority of its water supply. But it has reignited a years-old discussion between executives at the water company โ€” which won't be switching to fluoride unless it's mandated by an official agency โ€” and the dentists who see children with tooth decay.

The company: York Water President and CEO Jeffrey Hines said fluoride use, an "important health-related issue," should be decided by elected leaders instead of individual water suppliers.

"If our elected leaders wanted us to fluoridate, we would fluoridate," he said.

He said the company is "ready, willing and able to fluoridate" its water supply if it receives an order from a government agency or the state Legislature.

So far, that hasn't happened.

The government recommendation did affect the water supply for West Manheim Township, which was fluoridated before and after York Water purchased the system in 2007, Hines said.

Officials are lowering the recommended amount of fluoride in drinking water because some kids are getting too much, causing white splotches on their teeth.

It's primarily a cosmetic issue, said Deputy Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, recently announcing the decision.

"I certainly agree with that (lower recommendation)," Hines said. "Since fluoridation began in the 1950s, fluoride has become a lot more prevalent, and the needs for putting it in the water supply are obviously less."

Dentist reacts: Dr. Paul Kruth, a dentist at 1447 Dental Associates in Springettsbury Township, said he's definitely seen cases of children receiving too much fluoride.

"It isn't a problem structurally," Kruth said, "but it doesn't cosmetically look very good. There needs to be a balance."

With fluoride now in toothpaste, mouthwash and other products, a recent study found that about two out of five adolescents in communities with a fluoridated water supply had tooth streaking or spotting, likely as a result of too much fluoride.

But a lack of fluoride still remains a potential issue with the York water supply not fluoridated, the dentist said.

"I think or hope we would be seeing less tooth decay, especially in children, than we are seeing," Kruth said, "and certainly there are other factors involved in that."

Parents' choice: With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising that children under 2 not use fluoridated toothpaste or fluoride mouthwash, Hines said the decision on how children received the proper dose of fluoride was a parents' choice โ€” just as with any other medication.

"The challenge with fluoridating water is you don't always know where the fluoride is coming from," Hines said. "It's very difficult to figure out what your exact dosage is of fluoride when you're using fluoridated water."

Hines also expressed concerns over the environmental impact fluoridating the public water supply may have in the future. The York Water Co. produces 100 gallons of water per day per person, and each person ingests less than one gallon per day, he said.

"By fluoridating the water supply, that's 99 gallons of water (per person per day) you're putting fluoride in that's completely useless for human health and potentially problematic then for the environment because that fluoride ends up in the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay," Hines said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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