Natick stopped adding sodium fluoride to its public water supply last January due to a nationwide shortage, but is angling to reintroduce it as soon as spring. Fluoride plays an important role in strengthening teeth against decay, especially for kids.
Natick originally thought it would run out in October of 2021, but Wellesley’s Department of Public Works came to the rescue with enough supply that Natick could use for the rest of that year (Wellesley didn’t need as much at the time because 1 of its treatment plants was out of action). Natick acknowledged in its annual water quality report issued last year (for the reporting year 2021) that as of June 2022 it was still unable to fluoridate the drinking water due to the shortage.
The town is among a handful across the state that has stopped adding fluoride to its water due to the supply shortage.
The Department of Public Works shared updates this week at the Board of Health and Select Board meetings. In introducing the topic at the Select Board meeting, Town Administrator Jamie Errickson said “unfortunately supply chain issues are still chronically challenged for fluoride.”
Interim DPW Director Bill Spratt told the Board of Health that the town’s ability to procure sodium fluoride has improved, and it now has about a 4-month supply. It would like to get up to a 6-month supply before fluoridating the water again. The reason it doesn’t just start now is because there are operational challenges and costs with starting and stopping, so the town wants to feel pretty certain it can continue to fluoridate the water once it restarts.
Some communities use hydrofluoric acid to fluorinate their drinking water, but Natick is not set up to do that.
The other kicker with fluoride, which Natick gets from China, is that the cost has skyrocketed from roughly $22K a year to $68K a year based on using 12 pallets of the material. Natick used to get fluoride from Japan, but Spratt said that source is no longer available.
Dr. Peter Delli Colli, a dentist who serves on the Board of Health, stressed the importance of fluoridating water and said he has made calls around the country to try to uncover possible supplies for the town. Using fluoride tablets or getting topical treatments are alternatives, but Delli Colli say both have their downsides in terms of safety and convenience. Water-based fluoridation is the safest and most effective method, he said.
Natick Select Board member Rich Sidney encouraged the town’s Water/Sewer Department to send out communications to customers when it restarts fluoridation, and that it might also want to reach out to area dentists about the current situation.
To that point, we reached out to several Natick dental offices, and 1 dentist told us their office first heard about the fluoride stoppage some 8 months after the fact from a patient. Fluoride drops or tablets are an option prescribed by some pediatric dentists, this dentist said.