When the whole issue of fluoridation for Portland water came up recently, I thought, naively, big woo. Who cares? Really is this an issue we need to be concerned about? However, in the past six weeks, it has become a big deal, as I read the literature available and watched both campaigns for and against, I have to say I have come to strongly believe that we must vote YES on Fluoridation.
I have come around to this decision from a social justice and equity perspective. While the campaign against make some interesting points and express legitimate concerns, the overwhelming scientific evidence and efforts toward equity in health care for Portlanders has won me over. Sadly, Oregon ranks in the top ten states for uninsured residents, with 35% of children having untreated tooth decay. Oral hygiene contributes to overall health in significant ways beyond tooth decay throughout life. While fluoride is especially helpful to children, it is important for low income and marginalized adults and seniors as well.
Portland is the largest (and one of only eight) major city in the country not to fluoridate its water. Opposition is mainly based on scare tactics that exploit and distort minor facts and half truths. The information that opponents use — linking fluoride to bone cancer, sick pets, and damaged wildlife — overlook two key facts. Significantly, the very data they use has been incorporated into the fluoridation proposal to ensure that levels will be safe and effective both. Second, many of the studies that are cited refer to other forms of fluoride, a natural mineral that — like many — can be beneficial or harmful depending on its form and its intensity.
Toothpaste and mouthwash aren’t enough, or Oregon (#48 nationwide in fluoridation rates) would not have the terrible oral hygiene problems that it does. The poor, elderly, and underserved are disproportionately impacted by not taking this simple, SAFE step. Again, I would point to the issue of equity. If we remove barriers for underserved populations for tooth decay, pain, lost time in school, and periodontal disease, we are investing in everyone’s future by creating a stronger Portland with a stronger workforce. Dozens of organizations — including the ADA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the NASW — support this sensible move. Gov. John Kitzhaber, MD, has been a vocal advocate.
Portlanders should engage their civic spirit and sense of care for their fellows and vote yes on 26-151.