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Columbia, Mo., city council votes to continue fluoridation

Columbia, Mo.—Following nearly a year of discussions that originated with a request from a private citizen to stop fluoridating the city's water supply, the Columbia City Council voted unanimously Nov. 4 to continue fluoridating.

The fifth-largest city in Missouri, Columbia has been fluoridating since 1973, when its water supply was changed from deep naturally fluoridated wells to shallow wells that contained only 0.3 ppm fluoride, said Dr. Lori Henderson, a pediatric dentist in Columbia who worked in the grass-roots effort to keep Columbia fluoridated.

Local dentists at the time of the switch recommended maintaining the benefits of optimal fluoride levels and the city agreed to fluoridate the new water system, Dr. Henderson said.

"I learned a lot about the history of Columbia's fluoridation from Dr. Fletcher Burge, a retired dentist who reached out to me after the Central Dental Society executive director put out a call for action," Dr. Henderson said. "This was my first rodeo, and it was a pretty amazing process."

Dr. Henderson, an active oral health advocate in her community who has presented in public many times, said the campaign for retaining fluoridation was very different from other oral health promotion activities.

"I participated in an ADA fluoridation training program in April," she said. I was very naïve in thinking that educating decision-makers about scientific evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of fluoridation would be enough. What I learned, at the training and later in my community, is that political strategy is equally important.

The Columbia Board of Health reviewed more than 100 articles and heard five hours of testimony during the process. The board presented its report and recommendation to continue fluoridation to the city council Oct. 21, but then 5th Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser advanced a resolution to stop fluoridation and asked for public comment at the next meeting.

Dr. Henderson said she again reached out to local dentists, the pediatric and family medicine community, public health officials and other groups to quickly spread the word that community water fluoridation was still in jeopardy. 

"A diverse coalition spoke at the Nov. 4 city council meeting," she said. "The first to speak was Dr. Paul Reid, former dental director of the Missouri Department of Health. Two pre-dental students also participated, and were able to experience the importance of public service. I was proud to be a part of the pro-fluoride coalition present for the vote to continue optimal fluoridation. It was a wonderful day."

After the vote, Ms. Nauser told the Columbia Tribune "that she had spoken with many constituents while gathering signatures for her re-election campaign and found the majority wanted to continue fluoridation. Because of that, she voted 'no' on the resolution, which sought to end fluoridation."

Visit the ADA website for more information, policy statements and resources on fluoridation.