Why Do We Want Oregon to Adopt a Policy That Requires Community Water Fluoridation (i.e. a “State Mandate”)

For over 60 years, community water fluoridation has been the cornerstone of caries prevention in the United States. As noted in “Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General (2000),” community water fluoridation continues to be the most cost-effective, practical, and safe means for reducing and controlling the occurrence of tooth decay in a community.  A significant advantage of water fluoridation is that anyone, regardless of socioeconomic level, can enjoy these health benefits during their daily lives – at home, at work, or at school or play – simply by drinking fluoridated water or beverages prepared with fluoridated water.

In Oregon, only 23% of the water supplies are optimally fluoridated, compared to the national average of 75%. The main reason cited is that fluoridation should be a “local” decision, not a “state” decision.

In 2003, Oral Health America said, “State fluoridation laws are a good indication of state commitment to the fluoridation of community water supplies. States with strong laws are in a better position to support the maintenance and upkeep of aging water systems and encourage communities to adopt fluoridation as a preventive oral health measure that will benefit all residents, regardless of income or race.”

What is the benefit of fluoridation being a state decision (i.e. a decision of the “Oregon” community) rather than a “city” or a “water district” decision?

When a community decides to fluoridate, there is a typical unfolding of events:

  • Community members become frustrated with the dental disease that people are experiencing – disease that could have been prevented.
  • Parents, who have always assumed their water supply was fluoridated, realize that it is not.
  • A decision is made to implement fluoridation – an established, evidenced-based preventive measure.
  • Since fluoridation requires equipment and monitoring, the City Council is approached.
  • The City Council places “fluoridation” on their agenda and publishes the agenda on their website.
  • Anti-fluoridationists come to town, claiming fluoridation causes everything from Down Syndrome to Cancer. They claim that fluoridation harms children and causes bone problems in adults. They have a “witness” testify that he/she has had an allergic reaction to fluoridated water. They beg Council members not to implement “mass medication.”
  • Few people will know that fluoridation is endorsed by the National Down Syndrome Society, the National Cancer Institute & the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Practice, and the American Osteopathic Association. Few people will know that the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology states that fluoridation has never produced an allergic reaction. Few people will know that 61,000 Oregonians already drink water that contains naturally-occurring fluoride.
  • The antis place an “ALERT” on their website asking members all over the world to choose one of 8 statements, put it into their own words, and send it to the Council members. The Council is deluged with letters and emails opposing fluoridation.
  • The press, intending to be fair, sets up a debate scenario, inadvertently bestowing on the antifluoridationists the same credibility as established research organizations, such as the National Academy of Sciences and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • The public begins to think that fluoridation must be a “questionable” practice.
  • The fluoridation effort grinds to a halt. It has proved “too controversial.”
  • The anti-fluoridationists leave town. Mission accomplished.
  • (The next time the antis change their tactics ever so slightly, always with the intent to instill doubt. They then say, “When in doubt, leave it out.”)
  • Community members remain frustrated with the dental disease that people are experiencing – pain that could have been prevented.

Fluoridation is effective and safe.  Research over a 70-year period supports it.  The state of Oregon could establish public health policy based on evidence-based research. There is no reason to avoid this responsibility and cause individual communities to struggle through this process without legal support.