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Fluoridation to continue in Austin after committee action

August 24, 2015

By Michelle Manchir

Dr. Elyse Cronin Barron
Austin, Texas – Fluoridation will continue in Austin after two city committees failed to advance a resolution to the full city council that would have required Austin to stop fluoridating by Dec. 1.

The Austin City Council's Public Utilities Committee and Health and Human Services Committee held a joint hearing on Aug. 19 at which committee members decided to take no action to to move the resolution to the full council for approval.

"I trust our public health officials," said Ann Kitchen, chair of the Public Utilities Committee. "They have dug into this. The great weight of the evidence supports community water fluoridation. I think it's critical for our kids."

Prior to the decision, the committees heard presentations by local dental and health officials who supported fluoridation and presentations by those opposed.

Dr. Elyse Cronin Barron, president of the Capital Area Dental Society, was among the participants at the meeting who described the benefits and evidence-based safety of water fluoridation.

She told the story of a 7-year-old in her office who needed several teeth extracted in part, she said, because "the mother didn't believe in the use of fluoride."

"Respecting her right to parent didn't mean I had to give up the obligation to let her know that those cavities could've been prevented," Dr. Cronin Barron said, urging the city committee members to "base your decision on the consensus of the scientific community and the safety and efficacy of community water fluoridation."

Dr. Philip Huang, medical director and health authority for the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, told the committee members, "If we stop fluoridation, everyone would be affected, but not equally. Many local residents lack dental insurance or face other barriers to securing dental care, and tap water is what gives these individuals immediate access to fluoride that helps them reduce the risk of tooth decay."

Approved by voters in a 1972 referendum, Austin has been fluoridated since 1973.

As the hearing closed Aug. 19, a committee member noted that the opposition could effort a citizen-initiated petition. If opposition can collect valid signatures of 10 percent of qualified voters, or about 20,000 signatures, then citizens could vote on the issue directly.

Extending the availability of optimally fluoridated water is one of the Association's eight Action for Dental Health initiatives. The ADA has set a goal to bring fluoridated water to 80 percent of the U.S. population served by public water systems by 2020.

For more information about water fluoridation, visit www.ada.org/fluoride or contact Jane McGinley at mcginleyj@ada.org.