Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services announced this week 26 community water systems, including two in Cole County, have been awarded a water fluoridation quality award from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The two systems honored in Cole County are Jefferson City and Cole County Public Water Supply District No. 1.
Fluoridation is the addition of fluoride in drinking water to raise it to a level that is effective for preventing tooth decay. The awards recognize communities that achieved excellence in community water fluoridation by maintaining a consistent level of fluoride in drinking water throughout 2020.
Cole County Public Water Supply District No. 1 serves 6,600 customers. The district began adding fluoride to the water in the 1980s and then stopped it in the summer of 2003. They added fluoride back into the water in 2005 after patrons requested it.
In that same year, the Jefferson City Council unanimously mandated the addition of fluoride to the water of all suppliers within the city.
Based on Missouri Department of Natural Resources data analyzed by the Associated Press at the time, District 1 was the only one statewide to have stopped adding the chemical compound when they did so.
DHSS reports at the time showed in November 1989 the state spent about $3,500 on fluoridation equipment for the district, but then discontinued that grant program after 2003 -- about the same time the Cole County equipment was in need of replacement. This along with increased state monitoring requirements led the district to drop the fluoridation.
In October 2021, a nonprofit organization awarded the district a grant to help replace water fluoridation equipment. The $25,000 grant from Delta Dental of Missouri was used to purchase six scales and three analyzers for water fluoridation. Company officials said they plan to make more equipment upgrades next year.
Meanwhile, officials with Missouri American Water, the water supplier for Jefferson City, said they are neutral on the issue of fluoridation of drinking water supplies.
"As a community partner, Missouri American Water follows the direction of our states and local communities regarding whether fluoride is added to the water supply," company officials said in a news release. "If the local or state regulations change, we will modify our treatment accordingly."
Missouri American officials also said almost all water contains some naturally-occurring fluoride, but usually at levels too low to prevent tooth decay. The Missouri River, the source of water to Jefferson City, has naturally occurring fluoride and the company then adds to that with its treatment.
Missouri American took ownership of the Jefferson City Water Works Company in 2000 and has done water fluoridation since then.
"Water fluoridation is one of the best investments that a community can make in maintaining the oral health of its citizens, and it is equally as effective in preventing cavities in children and adults," said Casey Hannan, director of the CDC's division of oral health. "Fluoridation is also highly cost-effective. Studies continue to show that for every $1 a community invests in water fluoridation, $20 are saved in dental treatment costs."