"I asked my dentist ... is there fluoride in the drinking water? And he said, yeah ... it's good for your teeth. So then I began to wonder, if it's so good for your teeth, why am I, at 25 years old, having all these issues with my teeth?" Sturmer said.
Sturmer was a college athlete. He eats healthy food and exercises. He started doing research and found evidence that convinced him fluoride might not be as safe as he was led to believe. He came across an I-Team story ABC11 did five years ago in which a Durham dentist told us he believed we're getting too much Fluoride.
"Fluoride in the water is essentially a drug. It's an uncontrolled use of a drug," offered dentist Michael Fleming.
Sturmer said what he learned made him take action.
"That motivated me to reach to you and to continue spreading the word and building up the website and talking to people," said Sturmer.
Sturmer developed a www.durhamagainstfluoride.com website and took his cause to the Durham County Health Department. He's also raising awareness by putting information on cars in downtown Durham.
Sturmer said he's so concerned about the issue that he filters his tap water. His crusade may be limited to Durham, but he's not alone in his fight. A movement to ban fluoride in drinking water is heating up across the country.
In Portland, Oregon this fall, residents protested a city council vote to begin fluoridating tap water next year. They have enough signatures on a petition to take the issue to the ballot box next year. In Wichita, Kansas last week, voters rejected a plan to add fluoride to their public water supply.
"Our task was essentially one of just education. Myself, I thought fluoride was a good thing not long ago," explained Jonathan Hall with Wichitans Opposed to Fluoride.
As the I-Team dug into the science behind the fluoride controversy, we found study after study dating back to the 80s from respected academic and scientific institutions that connect fluoride to health dangers. Some of the studies were funded by the government. They suggest fluoride can be linked to brain, blood and bone deficiencies in humans. This past summer, Harvard University released a report after reviewing 27 studies of children in China exposed to fluoride. It concluded the higher the fluoride exposure, the lower the child's IQ.
One of the most recognized reports was published in 2006 by The National Academy of Sciences. It found fluoride can affect the thyroid gland and potentially lower the intelligence of children.
"EPA's drinking water standards are supposed to protect all persons against anticipated adverse health effects of the contaminant in question," explained Kathleen Thiessen - one of the scientists who worked on the 400-page study. "And we concluded after three years worth of work that the drinking water standard for fluoride was not protected and cannot be assumed to be safe for humans."
Thiessen said the EPA was warned about potential fluoride health dangers by one of its own chemists more than a decade ago. Dr. William Hirzy testified before a Senate subcommittee in 2000. He was representing the views of EPA scientists and staff who analyze hazards in the environment.
"In 1997, we voted to oppose fluoridation, and our opposition has grown stronger as more adverse data on the practice has come in," said Hirzy.
"The CDC and others say whatever beneficial effect there is from fluoride is from topical use. It's not from swallowing it. It never has been from swallowing it," said Thiessen.
The I-Team discovered most western countries do not fluoridate their water. Dental records kept by the World Health Organization show tooth decay in those countries has declined at the same rate as here in the United States - where we do fluoridate our water. The American Dental Association has endorsed fluoridation since it began in this country more than 50 years ago.
"[It] has been shown to be a very safe and very effective preventive measure for treating a disease that is rampant in our population," said Dr. Tim Wright with the UNC School of Dentistry. "There is no public health measure that is as cost effective as water fluoridation to prevent tooth decay ... Fluoride is like so many things that in the right amount it's very beneficial, and if you have too much, too much is not a good thing. So are we getting too much?"
Six years ago, the ADA thought infants might be getting too much fluoride and it warned parents not to use fluoridated water - but bottled water - to mix baby formula. Dentists also want to make sure children don't get too much when they brush their teeth.
"That is why we currently recommend a smear or a grain-sized amount. So a very small amount in a child from the time they first get their teeth - which is six months to a year - until they turn 3. And then at 3, the recommendation is to go to more of a pea-sized amount so there's a little bit more," Dr. Wright explained.
Sturmer points to the warning label on toothpaste.
"If you look on the other side of that toothpaste tube, it says 'Do not swallow.' We've been taught as kids, when you're brushing your teeth, do not swallow the toothpaste foam. Why is that?" he asked. "Because fluoride is poisonous ... So why is it in the water? Why do we need to drink it?"
The EPA doesn't believe the amount of fluoride in water is causing harm. It has not changed fluoride standards for drinking water more than six years after the report by The National Academy of Sciences, and that frustrates scientist Kathleen Thiessen.
"There probably never was a beneficial effect. Certainly by now when we have fluoride in toothpaste, we have fluoride in mouth rinse, we have fluoride in a number of sources. It is extremely easy to have too much fluoride. It's much harder to control it," she said.
"I think all city governments ... need to reconsider water fluoridation. The science is out there, the citizens who are concerned are out there, and they are making their voices known," said Sturmer.
Sturmer has convinced the Durham County Public Health Department to look into the safety of fluoride in the water.
The National Institutes of Health - for the first time ever - is currently funding an animal study to assess fluoride's effect on the brain.