Across America, two-thirds of the population drinks water treated with fluoride. Oregon’s fluoridation rate is about 23 percent — 48th out of fifty states. Portland is now the largest city in the country without fluoridated water but a coalition of supporters is lobbying to change that. KLCC's Tiffany Eckert takes a look at this controversial subject.
Since the early 80’s, the little town of Philomath has added fluoride to their water. Last year, the city council made the whole sale decision to stop. They cited health concerns and liability.
Grube: “There’s always a tension between individual rights, personal freedom and public health issues.”
That’s Doctor David Grube. In March, he and his medical partner led a petition drive for a special election to get fluoride back in the city water. It worked and water fluoridation resumed in Philomath.
Grube: “I believe in prevention. And, dental care, there’s more prevention than almost any other area of medicine really. Once you get a bad tooth, you’ll never get it back.”
Ford: "I am a proponent of it. My family moved to Eugene from McMinnville about four years ago. And in McMinnville the water was fluoridated. So I was surprised to find out that the water here is not. Being a mom of three, it took me a while to get my kids to the dentist. By the time we got to the dentist, they already had tooth decay from not having fluoridated water."
Ford flashes her own pearly whites as she recalls a trip she took to the dentist.
Ford: "Having the hygienist remark that my teeth were so nice. And, she asked me where I grew up and I told that I'd grown up in California. And she said 'Oh, you have California teeth.' "
Ford says after enough bad news from her kids' dentist--she made a decision.
Ford: "I finally got to the point of ordering fluoridated water to be delivered to our house."
According to the American Dental Association, the cost of fluoridation in larger cities is around fifty cents per person per year. In small communities, the annual amount goes up to about three dollars for each resident.
Molly Morris makes it her business to know about water. She owns Mckenzie Mist. Her family bottles water from a 280-foot artesian well up the Mckenzie River Valley. Morris' opinion on fluoridation is clear.
Morris: "No medicines belong in the municipal water supply. We drink water for its purity. Not to get additives."
Morris isn't alone in her distrust of water fluoridation. Eugene residents have rejected the process every time it comes to a vote. Morris says there are better ways to get the stuff.
Morris: "You know, fluoride is a naturally occurring substance. It's available in certain foods. That's the type of fluoride you want. Not the type that is a byproduct of industrial manufacturing."
Most fluoride additives in the U.S. are produced from Phosphorite rock which is used in the manufacture of fertilizer. Critics hold that the fluoride in toothpaste, rinses and water fluoridation is a byproduct of steel, aluminum, and nuclear industries.
Amid the controversy over fluoride--where it comes from and who should get it-- the Oregon Dental Association continues to advocate for water fluoridation. According to a study by the centers for disease control, more than 35 percent of Oregon 3rd graders have untreated tooth decay. Molly Morris says instead of using fluoride, she takes a different tact with her family.
Morris: "Having my kids floss their teeth every day. You can not brush your teeth but floss your teeth and be farther ahead in dental hygiene than having used toothpaste."
Portland residents have voted against fluoridation time after time. But, a coalition called “Everyone Deserves Healthy Teeth” has been quietly lobbying the Portland city council to pass an ordinance.
Meanwhile back in Philomath, Doctor David Grube wonders if Portland and the 900,000 residents who drink the water there will follow his small town's lead.
And so, the debate continues.
Copyright 2012 KLCC.