More communities are ending the practice of adding fluoride to the water supply, prompted by local government budget squeezes and growing skepticism about the health benefits.

As The New York Times reports, Pinellas County on Florida’s west coast voted to stop its seven-year-old fluoridation program. The county joins about 200 jurisdictions from Georgia to Alaska that have decided to halt fluoridation in the last four years.

The federal government continues to recommend water fluoridation, which began in the 1940s and today cover 72 percent of the U.S.  population. Officials said the programs remain important because many people cannot afford dental care.

But the government’s recent cautionary advice about risks of excessive fluoride have helped fuel the growing pushback, which once came mostly from political fringe groups such as the John Birch Society. A report last year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked fluoride to an increase among children in dental fluorosis, which causes white or yellow spots on teeth.

Fluorosis is mostly a cosmetic problem that can sometimes be bleached away but critics argue that it can signal that other bones in the body may be absorbing too much fluoride, which is associated with increases in bone fractures, pain and tenderness.

Also fueling resistance is the presence of fluoride in toothpaste and mouthwash. Even supporters acknowledge that putting fluoride in the water supply is less effective than applying it directly to the teeth through brushing.

Still, supporters say the trend will hurt public health. “Political rhetoric won out over science and the best advice of our medical and dental community,” said Kenneth T. Welch, a Pinellas County commissioner who wanted to continue adding fluoride to the water

STUART SILVERSTEIN

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