Through the lips and past the gums, and into the stomach in seconds.
It’s a drink of water, plus a little hydrofluorosilicic acid: a chemical so corrosive and toxic, it carries a warning label. Since 2002, the city has been injecting it into the water supply, in an effort to stem tooth decay.
“The one, clear, proven way of keeping people’s teeth healthier, reducing decay is community water fluoridation,” said Dr. Maria Lopez-Howell, a San Antonio dentist and spokeswoman for the American Dental Association.
The American Dental Association says studies dating back to the 1940’s show a correlation between high concentrations of fluoride and a lack of cavities.
“We know that it continues to work, with anywhere from a 20 to 40 percent reduction in tooth decay,” added Lopez-Howell.
The ADA’s stance on fluoridated water hasn’t changed. But what has changed in the last 9 years is the growth of research which says ingesting fluoride may be harming, rather than helping.
"It accumulates in your bones and other places as well,” said Dr. Griffin Cole, an Austin dentist and opponent of fluoridated water.
Cole won’t use fluoride in his dental office.
"No fluoride. I don't have any fluoridated toothpaste in the office. I don't do any fluoride treatments, never have. I don't recommend it. I openly tell my patients that,” said Cole.
Cole says despite the lack of fluoride, there’s been no increase in cavities in his patients.
"Drinking water with fluoride in it does not have any benefit to the teeth, whatsoever,” he said.
And San Antonio’s Metro-Health department studies appear to back that up.
After 9 years and $3 million of adding fluoride, research shows tooth decay hasn’t dropped among the poorest of Bexar County’s children. It has only increased—up 13% in 2010, the latest date that data was available.
One out of two children in the Head Start program who were checked for cavities had some decay last year.
Also on the increase is fluorosis—or staining of the teeth. Drink a lot of fluoridated water, and you run the risk of these permanent splotches.
In fact, fluorosis is up 41 percent across the nation.
It’s so prevalent, the Centers for Disease Control warns parents NOT to mix baby formula with fluoridated water—a warning that is at-odds with the ADA.
“Our diet is such that we need everything we can do to prevent tooth decay. The bad news is that you may have some white spots on your teeth. The good news is that you won’t have any cavities,” said Dr. Lopez-Howell.
But recent studies from the CDC report there’s no clear evidence that adding fluoride to water does anything. And even one of the ADA’s own researchers has concluded that fluoride--at best—works when it is applied topically to teeth.
In 2006, the National Academy of Science reported that even at low levels, ingesting fluoride increases bone fractures and contributes to diabetes, brittle bones and thyroid dysfunction.
Dr. Laura Pressley says she learned that the hard way.
"About ten years ago I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism,” said Pressley.
With the diagnosis, she began taking a regimen of drugs to control it.
Thyroid disease isn’t something that runs in her family, so Pressley investigated.
"I do have fluorosis in my teeth, and the white discoloration and I knew I grew up with fluoride in my tap water as a child,” she said.
As a chemist, Pressley says her research pointed to fluoride. So, she took it out. All of it--through water filters and a change in diet.
And she says when fluoride disappeared, so did her symptoms.
"I was on migraine medication, I was on allergy medication, and I was on thyroid medication. I take no medications at all. And that is shocking, because I was on so much three years ago,” said Pressley.
“This compound that the city is adding is many more times toxic than lead. It’s nearly as toxic as arsenic,” said a fluoride opponent, who signed up to speak at a City of Austin committee hearing.
The city is considering a warning label on its water bill, so that residents know the hazards associated with fluoride consumption.
It’s a first step, they say, in joining the 250 communities that have stopped fluoridation completely. It is estimated that more than 60% of the nation's water supply is now fluoridated.
“Let’s get the warning on our label on our city bill, and let’s just get it out of the water. It’s time,” added Cole.