Brendan P. Dowd, D.D.S, moved to Buffalo, New York, nearly a decade ago.
“For the last eight-and-a-half years, I thought I was using fluoridated water,” said the former president of the New York State Dental Association.
He was wrong.
In 2015, city officials quietly discontinued its water fluoridation program without allegedly notifying the community, a fact that Buffalo News reporter Charlie Specht discovered in 2022.
Until then, residents and dentists believed and trusted that the city was fluoridating its water.
A community uproar, including a class-action lawsuit, resulted, and fluoridation could resume later this year in the city of nearly 280,000 people — the sixth-largest community in New York state.
Buffalo Water Board Chair Oluwole "O.J." McFoy, told ADA News that Buffalo Water anticipates completing the reinstallation of fluoride by this summer.
"Buffalo Water has made great progress with the New York State Department of Health, having recently been approved to move forward with our plans to safely restore fluoride to Buffalo's water,” he said. “Our team is working closely with contractors for this large project, and we are confident in our improved fluoridation system upgrades. Buffalo Water is committed to providing safe and affordable drinking water to all members of the Buffalo community.”
Dr. Dowd isn’t completely convinced.
“I am hoping water fluoridation is resumed by this summer in Buffalo, but I have strong concerns because of the results over the past eight-and-a-half years,” Dr. Dowd said. “I am not sure exactly what the holdup has been on restarting the water fluoridation in Buffalo, but the reasons are getting thinner and thinner. This was supposed to be started last summer, then October, and now next summer.”
Dr. Dowd said he is personally invested in the issue for a number of reasons.
“I know this process is effective and safe when done properly,” he said. “There are countless studies that prove this. It is also a question of health equity. This is a great example of a proven process that helps all people in a community with their oral health and overall health. It’s sad only three quarters of the communities in our country are taking advantage of this wonderful process. The direct help it gives to all of our citizen’s oral health, and overall health, cannot be underestimated.”
A class action lawsuit was filed in 2023 against the city regarding the lack of fluoride in the city's water.
The lawsuit, filed by Buffalo residents, named not only the city of Buffalo, but the mayor and Mr. McFoy, as having deprived Buffalo's residents of fluoridated water.
The lawsuit additionally calls for the fluoridation of the water to immediately resume and for all the previously named defendants to be held responsible for damages to "plaintiffs, their families, and hundreds of thousands of other Buffalonians."
The complaint also requests that the court order the defendants to “provide free preventative treatment dental clinics to Buffalo residents that experienced cavities, diseases and other complications that are preventable through public water fluoridation.”
The city is also to pay damages in an amount exceeding $160 million dollars, according to the lawsuit.
Johnny Johnson, D.D.S., pediatric dentist and president of the American Fluoridation Society, has been lobbying and educating Buffalo dentists and other stakeholders. He praised the work of the Buffalo News reporter.
“If the investigative reporter hadn’t found it, who knows how long this would have gone on,” Dr. Johnson said.
Tom Curran, D.D.S, a retired oral and maxillofacial surgeon who has worked with advocates on restoring fluoridation, said the reporter “did a great job exposing what was going on.”
The city’s quiet decision back in 2015, Dr. Curran said, was, simply, “surreptitious.”
He also isn’t holding his breath for fluoridation to resume.
“It still hasn’t happened,” Dr. Curran said.
For more information on fluoride in water, visit ADA.org/fluoride.