Three public health advocates recently kicked a hornets’ nest when they asked Spokane City Council to add fluoride to the city’s drinking water. Let the hornets buzz. Council should add fluoride to the city’s water to improve the dental health of all residents.
If anything, the city is a little behind schedule for this conversation. It’s been 20 years since the last great fluoride debate in Spokane. In 2000, city voters narrowly rejected putting fluoride in the water. Before that, the gaps between fluoride elections were about 15 years.
For decades, science has known that naturally occurring minerals containing fluoride make people’s teeth resistant to decay. Applied topically and ingested, fluoride-containing compounds lead to fewer cavities, less bad breath and better overall health.
Fluoride is endorsed by federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, the Washington State Board of Health, and others.
Three-quarters of Americans now have fluoridated water in their homes. It’s one of the most cost beneficial public health measures available.
For every $1 spent on fluoridating water, communities save more than $30 on health care spending. That doesn’t even include the benefits of not having people suffer through toothaches and miss work for serious dental procedures.
Fluoride also is a powerful tool to address health care disparities that persist in society. Poor dental health skews toward low-income families and communities of color.
They often don’t have dental insurance or personal finances to pay for regular dentist visits.
Parents in those demographics may not have been raised with good dental hygiene habits, so they don’t pass them on to kids.
Now, with the nation so focused on righting historic inequities, Spokane should not continue to deny all of its residents so simple a measure to improve their health.
Fluoride already occurs naturally in Spokane’s drinking water, just not in a high enough concentration.
The CDC recommends 0.7 milligrams per liter, but we only have 0.2 milligrams.
The worst harm that fluoride causes is fluorosis, which is just blotchy white discoloration on teeth when people get too much fluoride in their system.
It’s uncommon, even more so since the CDC dialed back its recommended fluoride levels to the current standard. Fluorosis is a cosmetic problem, and certainly not as unsightly as a mouth full of decay.
People have a choice when it comes to fluoride.
Do they believe the doctors, dentists and public health experts who attest to the value and safety of fluoridating drinking water or do they believe the self-declared experts they find online? Do they believe rigorous peer-reviewed research or some crank’s pseudo-science?
The anti-fluoridation crowd is loud, but it’s not convincing. The council will hear from them, but it should side with medical science.
Three times in the past, Spokane asked voters to approve fluoridation.
Three times, voters said no.
Don’t put the question on the ballot again where misinformation and conspiratorial bloviating will confuse the issue.
Make the decision: Put fluoride in the water for a healthier Spokane for everyone.
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