For close to seven decades now, jurisdictions across the country have been supplementing naturally-occurring fluoride in community water supplies to promote oral health. Numerous studies credit water fluoridation efforts with major reductions in tooth decay during the second half of the 20th century. Many too, attest to the safety of fluoridation at optimum levels. Yet in spite of reams of scientific evidence, debate and fear remain in some places. Last year in Portland, Ore., for example, voters overturned a city council decision to fluoridate the local water supply.
“Late last night, Portlanders rejected a plan to fluoridate their city’s water supply (and the water of over a dozen other cities),” wrote Scientific American blogger Kyle Hill in a morning-after column. “It’s the fourth time Portland has rejected the public health measure since 1956. It’s the fourth time they’ve gotten the science wrong.”
Meanwhile, similar debates over fluoride have been unfolding. How can reporters in these communities separate the science from the pseudo-science and keep the public informed?