Battles over water fluoridation spread across the country

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

As the election returns rolled in, armies of reporters across the country went to work exploring the fate of candidates in local state and national races.

Annie Calovich of The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle had the task of exploring the fate of fluoride.

Mary OttoMary Otto, AHCJ’s topic leader on oral health is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover oral health care.

If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to mary@healthjournalism.org.

The city’s hotly contested fluoride initiative, backed by local doctors and dentists, but strongly opposed by anti-fluoride activists, went down to defeat on Nov 6. Voters in city of Wichita rejected fluoridated water as they did in 1964 and 1978.

All over the country, jurisdictions are fighting over fluoride. In September, the city council in Portland, Ore., voted to fluoridate city drinking water in an effort to reduce tooth decay. In August, Milwaukee reduced the level of fluoride in its water after a city alderman launched a campaign to completely eliminate it. A year ago, in a decision that also had implications in Nov. 6 elections, Pinellas County, Fla., commissioners voted to stop adding fluoride to drinking water (more about that in a minute.)

Public health officials and state and local dental groups stand up for community fluoridation, which has been hailed by the Centers for Disease Control as one of the great public health achievements of the 20th century. For more than 65 years, communities across the United States have been supplementing naturally occurring fluoride in water supplies to promote oral health. At what are considered optimum levels, numerous studies have shown fluoride reduces cavities.

But too much fluoride can be a bad thing, public health officials have acknowledged. Consumption at excess levels may cause fluorosis and skeletal deformities, research has found.

Fluoride opponents continue to insist that any fluoride is bad.

Wichita pediatrician Larry Hund, a leader in Wichita’s fluoridation campaign, told Calovich that he and his allies had worked hard to explain the oral health benefits of fluoride to voters.

“We have 14,000 patients; we talked to a lot of parents and tried to do a lot of education. I wish we could have done more education,” he said. But he added: “It’s easier to scare people than to teach them about the science involved.”

“He said that the claim that fluoride is toxic played more to emotion than to science, and that people who were able to understand the science advocated fluoride,” Calovich wrote.

Meanwhile, she found that anti-fluoride forces in Wichita had a powerful supporter in Mark S. Gietzen, president of the Kansas Republican Assembly.

Pleased with the victory in Wichita, the Republican leader told the Eagle he planned to continue to fight fluoride on a larger scale.

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“We’re definitely going to take this statewide; we’re not going to quit,” Gietzen said. He suggested he might begin to work toward a state recommendation against fluoridation while still allowing communities to decide for themselves whether they wanted it.

“Since I am connected to the National Federation of Republican Assemblies … I’m going to try to make fluoride one of our core issues,” Gietzen said. He likened fluoride to lead and asbestos: “Things that we thought were right back then maybe were not such a good idea after all. That’s where we are with fluoride.”

But down in Florida, Tampa Bay Times staff writers Anna M. Phillips and Anne Lindberg had a different post-election fluoride story to tell. They documented the downfall of two anti-fluoride politicians in their Nov. 7 story “Pinellas County commissioners blame fluoride vote for failed re-election bids.”

The defeated commissioners, Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield “were part of a bloc of commissioners who voted … to stop adding the cavity-fighting mineral to the county’s drinking water,” the reporters wrote.

“The four commissioners who opposed fluoride said they were motivated by concern for public health while critics called the vote as a capitulation to tea party extremists who believe fluoride is harmful.”

“The voters clearly said they want fluoride in the water,” Brickfield told the Tampa Bay Times. “And I will never vote against fluoride again as long as I live.”

Bostock said the fluoride issue was unfairly emphasized by the newspaper in its election reporting and editorials.

“When I was out in the community the topic of fluoride came up very, very little. But the coverage of it was excessive,” Bostock said.

In a Nov. 1 editorial “The Real Cost of the Fluoride Fiasco” the newspaper featured brief stories about several families, including one with a dental hygienist mom, now spending their own money on fluoride supplements since their children no longer get fluoride in their drinking water.

“Pinellas County commissioners did not just ignore established science when they voted 4-3 to stop adding fluoride … to the county’s drinking water. They also cost families plenty of money and unlimited frustration, because dentists are now advising parents to give fluoride to their children to prevent tooth decay,’’ the newspaper’s editorial board wrote.

“Their challengers, Charlie Justice and Janet Long, support restoring fluoride to the county’s drinking water. It only takes one new commissioner to reverse the backward decision — and save Pinellas County families time, money and frustration,” the editorial noted.

The paper urged county voters to oust Bostock and Brickfield. And voters did.

Related

Politifact Oregon: Do cities really save $38 for every $1 they spend on fluoridation?

7 thoughts on “Battles over water fluoridation spread across the country

  1. G.

    “Battles over water fluoridation spread across the country”

    That is a gross understatement. The battles over water fluoridation are WORLD-WIDE for the few remaining countries that still fluoridate their tap water. Most countries around the world have ended this barbaric practice. Look into the fluoride battles occuring in Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

    Many countries around the world are skeptical of the “benefits” of adding fluoride to drinking water. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and China have all recognized that water fluoridation is not a safe and fair practice.

    On PubMed.gov

    Caries frequency before and after discontinuation of water fluoridation in Kuopio, Finland”

    “In spite of discontinued water fluoridation, no indication of an increasing trend of caries could be found in Kuopio. The mean numbers of fluoride varnish and sealant applications decreased sharply in both towns between 1992 and 1995. In spite of that caries declined.”
    PMID: 9758426

  2. Voices

    The research on fluoridation is solid – Fluoride is cost-effective and has a positive impact on people’s live. The leading medical and health organizations support water fluoridation.

  3. Git-er-done

    Hogwash.

    Fear tactics, equivalent to terrorism, are what anti-fluoridation efforts are based in.

    There is not a SINGLE, credible, scientific organization in the World that supports or recognizes the claims that these groups make regarding OPTIMALLY fluoridated water. Not one. Just ask them.

    The health benefits of optimally fluoridated water are recognized, endorsed, and/or supported by over 100 groups internationally, including the World Health Organization, AMA, AAP, American Dental Association, CDC, US Surgeon Generals , and the American Cancer Society, among many others.

    Again, not a SINGLE one of these credible, scientific groups or organizations puts their names behind the claims of the anti-fluoridationists. Their claims are not founded in credible, peer-reviewed, published, scientific research. Period.

  4. Git-er-done

    National and International Organizations That Recognize the Public Health Benefits of Community Water Fluoridation for Preventing Dental Decay

    Academy of Dentistry International
    Academy of General Dentistry
    Academy for Sports Dentistry
    Alzheimer’s Association
    America’s Health Insurance Plans
    American Academy of Family Physicians
    American Academy of Nurse Practitioners
    American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
    American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
    American Academy of Pediatrics
    American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
    American Academy of Periodontology
    American Academy of Physician Assistants
    American Association for Community Dental Programs
    American Association for Dental Research
    American Association for Health Education
    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    American Association of Endodontists
    American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
    American Association of Orthodontists
    American Association of Public Health Dentistry
    American Association of Women Dentists
    American Cancer Society
    American College of Dentists
    American College of Physicians–American Society of Internal Medicine
    American College of Preventive Medicine
    American College of Prosthodontists
    American Council on Science and Health
    American Dental Assistants Association
    American Dental Association
    American Dental Education Association
    American Dental Hygienists’ Association
    American Dietetic Association
    American Federation of Labor and Congress
    of Industrial Organizations
    American Hospital Association
    American Legislative Exchange Council
    American Medical Association
    American Nurses Association
    American Osteopathic Association
    American Pharmacists Association
    American Public Health Association
    American School Health Association
    American Society for Clinical Nutrition
    American Society for Nutritional Sciences
    American Student Dental Association
    American Water Works Association
    Association for Academic Health Centers
    Association of American Medical Colleges
    Association of Clinicians for the Underserved
    Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs
    Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors
    Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
    Association of State and Territorial Public Health
    Nutrition Directors
    British Fluoridation Society
    Canadian Dental Association
    Canadian Dental Hygienists Association
    Canadian Medical Association
    Canadian Nurses Association
    Canadian Paediatric Society
    Canadian Public Health Association
    Child Welfare League of America
    Children’s Dental Health Project
    Chocolate Manufacturers Association
    Consumer Federation of America
    Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists
    Delta Dental Plans Association
    FDI World Dental Federation
    Federation of American Hospitals
    Hispanic Dental Association
    Indian Dental Association (U.S.A.)
    Institute of Medicine
    Institute for Science in Medicine
    International Association for Dental Research
    International Association for Orthodontics
    International College of Dentists
    March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation
    National Association of Community Health Centers
    National Association of County and City Health Officials
    National Association of Dental Assistants
    National Association of Local Boards of Health
    National Association of Social Workers
    National Confectioners Association
    National Council Against Health Fraud
    National Dental Assistants Association
    National Dental Association
    National Dental Hygienists’ Association
    National Down Syndrome Congress
    National Down Syndrome Society
    National Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped
    National Head Start Association
    National Health Law Program
    National Healthy Mothers,
    Healthy Babies Coalition
    Oral Health America
    Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
    Society for Public Health Education
    Society of American Indian Dentists
    Special Care Dentistry
    Academy of Dentistry for Persons with Disabilities
    American Association of Hospital Dentists
    American Society for Geriatric Dentistry
    The Children’s Health Fund
    The Dental Health Foundation (of California)
    U.S. Department of Defense
    U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
    U.S. Public Health Service
    Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
    World Federation of Orthodontists
    World Health Organization

  5. Peggy Thatcher

    “nyscof” points to a particularly bad piece of journalism, i.e. the reporter does understand the science that supports fluoridation.

    Ex-Commissioner Nancy Bostock would probably have preferred some sort of “pseudo-balance” in the coverage of the fluoridation issue in Pinellas County. But the Tampa Bay Times gave proper weight to the science and to the projected impact on the community. (You don’t give equal weight to astrologers when talking about NASA projects.)

    Stopping fluoridation was going to mean, on average, that every year 1/3 of the community would need an extra trip to the dentist. That a huge extra dental bill for individuals and for Medicaid, to say nothing of lost work days and suffering.

  6. Billy Budd

    2/3rds of the operations for terrible cavities in kids are avoided with community water fluoridation (CWF). In that huge Louisiana study CWF saved 50% of the dental bills for the kids studied

    Water Fluoridation & Costs of Medicaid Treatment for Dental Decay. MMWR. CDC 09/03/1999

    A Colorado study found this benefit alone returns 150% in lower dental bills. Many possible public health programs were compared. None are as cost effective as CWF.

    Prev Chronic Dis. 2012 Mar;9: A simulation model for designing effective interventions in early childhood caries. Hirsch GB, et al

    Operations include extractions root canals & stainless steel crowns & cost up to $15000. These happen more often in communities CWF. The findings of the Louisiana study has been confirmed in Scotland, Texas, Australia, and New York. Data presented to the Portland, OR City Council showed about 70% prevention of these operations in a comparison of two Oregon towns.

    Over 100 prestigious dental & public health societies & health advocacy organizations like the Pew Trust and the Am Acad of Pediatrics formally recognize that CWF improves oral health.

    CWF opposition harms a community’s oral health. They argue for increased pain suffering & life-long disadvantages. Public Health advocates must continue to seek effective ways to effectively communicate fluoridation’s benefits. It is a difficult task.

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