The City of The Dalles will keep fluoridating part of its water supply despite accusations by opponents that it is immoral and illegal to “mass medicate” citizens.
The council made that decision Monday after hearing testimony from 10 professionals in the dental and medical fields. The elected officials were told that The Dalles has a much lower rate of tooth decay than Hood River, a gorge city that does not fluoridate its water.
“It is not even close between the two towns,” said Jim Bickler, an orthodontist who works in both communities.
He said fluoridating the water was most beneficial to lower-income residents who often had poorer diets and could not afford regular dental care.
“The people who derive the most benefit from this are not sitting in this room,” he said at the July 8 meeting.
That statement was backed up by Teri Thalhofer, director of the North Central Public Health District.
She said The Dalles had a 10 percent greater poverty rate than Hood River and about triple the population. But far fewer cavities were found among clients on nutritional assistance programs in The Dalles.
“Dental caries cause chronic pain in children and children in pain don’t learn well,” said Thalhofer.
Robert Boyet of The Dalles had asked the elected body to reconsider fluoridating part of its water supply, which has been done since 1957. He said the industrial grade of the mineral used by the city is “toxic” and threatens public health.
“They (companies that produce fluoride) cannot dump toxic waste in the water but they are allowed to distribute it all over the country to go into our water,” he said.
Other opponents told the council it was impossible for the fluoride dosage in water to be regulated to a safe level because people not only drank it but bathed in it and cooked with it. They said credible scientific studies had been done to show that fluoride lowered intelligence in developing children and caused arthritis, bone fractures, kidney disease, cancer and fertility problems.
“Fluoridation is medicating everyone whether they need it or not,” said Garrett Wallen of The Dalles. “Please, I beg of you, stop the fluoride madness.”
Kurt Ferré, a dentist from Portland, told city officials that he had traveled from Portland in hopes of stopping political opposition from mounting to change the city’s fluoridation practices.
He said the strategy of opponents was to evoke an emotional response in people to rally them against use of the mineral.
“The perception of fear interferes with judgment,” he said. “You have to do a risk-benefit analysis of the issue. The role of government is to take care of the young, old, sick, needy and handicapped.”
That theme was picked up by other physicians, who said the vast majority of studies showing the harmful health effects of fluoridation were performed in other countries where the levels were doubled or even tripled.
They said arsenic could be found in bread, ice cream and other popular foods but not at a level that is harmful, as is the case with fluoride.
Chuck Haynie, a retired surgeon who practiced in The Dalles and Hood River, said it was important for city officials to become informed about the issue in case a ballot measure was brought forward by opponents. He said Hood River’s medical and dental community had lost a bid for water fluoridation in the early 2000s because voters were inundated with misleading and wrong information.
“Some of the ideas you hear might sound a little off but let me tell you that every single one of them convinced some voter to vote no,” he said.
Haynie said medical and dental associations had researched the issue thoroughly before taking a stand that fluoridation was the right thing to do.
“Professionals are not here at the behest of some corporation that is trying to dump toxic waste in your water,” he said.
Dave Anderson, public works director, read the council a long list of agencies that support the practice, including the American Medical Association and World Health Organization. He said the U.S. Center for Disease Control had concluded that fluoridation of drinking water was one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.
He said the U.S. Surgeon General reported in 2004 that every $1 invested in fluoridation saved $38 or more in dental treatment costs.
He said the city had to comply with state and federal standards limiting the amount of fluoride that can be added to drinking water to a maximum of 4 parts per million. The city currently fluoridates water from the Wicks Water Treatment Plant and the Lone Pine well at 0.7 parts per million. The other two local water sources have natural fluoride levels of 0.6 to 0.7 parts per million so no fluoride is added to these systems.
Anderson said the annual cost of the city’s fluoride program is less than $10,000 per year, which is a low cost for a program of great public benefit.
Several U.S. court decisions have rejected the argument that fluoride is a medication and not a mineral, he said.
Councilor Tim McGlothlin told the audience that the council had been inundated with material on both sides of the issue. He said it had been his duty as a representative of the people to keep an open mind and read all of the submitted literature and comments before making a decision.
He said after weighing the issues, he came down on the side of fluoridation. His was joined in that assertion by his peers and the decision was made to retain the current program.