Water fluoridation in Portland: Taking the choice out of parents' hands?
We've made a case against water fluoridation here before.
Sam Adams says he doesn't care that voters have said 'no' to water fluoridation three times (in 1956, 1962 and 1980), and he will support a plan to add a $5 million fluoridation plant -- it would take at least five years to build and cost taxpayers about $575,000 a year to run once it was going. Commissioner Nick Fish, one of the two others who have publicly supported the project (Dan Saltzman is the third) told an Oregonian reporter how much poor families need fluoridation.
In a statement released Thursday, while on vacation, Fish said many hard-working families can't pay for fluoride. "With fluoridated water, simply drinking tap water gives all of our children the same opportunity to start life with healthy teeth," Fish said.
It's a bizarre argument, given that fluoride has been freely offered in Portland public schools every morning for decades. I swished the fluoride when I was in kindergarten (and my family was, indeed, poor); my kids swish the fluoride. Sure, preschoolers can't have access to fluoride unless they pay for it, but (umm) there are so many ways we don't support the health of poor families that this just seems a weird thing to plant a $5 million-plus flag in. Also, many health advocates have repeatedly noted that fluoride's benefit is topical, and there have been documented effects of fluoride poisoning -- from ingestion -- for about as long as water has been fluoridated.
According to a meta-analysis of fluoridation studies published in the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, high levels of water fluoridation had a negative impact on the IQs of children. Here's another mark against fluoridation, found on the web site of Oregon Citizens for Safe Drinking Water:
A recently published study from Harvard found that young boys between the ages of five and ten years old who drink fluoridated water at so called “optimal” levels of one part per million have a 500% greater likelihood of developing osteosarcoma, a rare and often fatal bone cancer, than boys who do not drink fluoridated water. The study corroborates earlier studies on the fluoride/osteosarcoma link by the National Cancer Institute and the New Jersey Health Department.
I think the most powerful argument against adding fluoride to water, though, is that parents of babies are asked to avoid giving them fluoridated water to drink. The CDC itself, a supporter of fluoridation, says in a very carefully-worded statement that parents should not use exclusively fluoridated water to reconstitute baby formula. Baby and toddler toothpaste doesn't contain fluoride, because it's considered dangerous for babies to ingest.
I've read a book on fluoridation, and came through the experience firmly against it. I don't disagree with the use of topical fluoride; I think it's perfectly acceptable to use fluoride toothpaste. In fact, it's a lot cheaper to purchase flouride toothpaste than the natural fluoride-free alternatives (Sam and Nick, take note, poor parents now have no choice but excessive fluoridation).
I really don't think this move makes sense for any of us. If we as a city have decided that our tax dollars should support the heath of the poorer members of our community, the most efficient way to achieve that would be in health outreach to poor families -- more fresh whole foods and less sugar, more social-emotional supports for young families, more dental treatments for poor families -- than prophylactically medicating the entire city through our water system. I can't believe this is just about dental health, because there are so many better ways to approach it (and, once again! we already HAVE a fluoridation program for children in Portland!)
If the city council does indeed vote for this plan, we'll have the opportunity to overturn it. It will be expensive (money better spent on true community building and food and farms and arts and all sorts of things); it will take a lot of our time and energy; it will be seriously annoying. We already said "no." We have alternatives that work. We could spend $100,000 a year to buy toothpaste and fluoride tablets for every kid in Portland.
It's just not the Portland way, Sam & Co. Let the parents make the choices about their children's health. We can be trusted. Stop making it so clear you don't agree.