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Fluoridation: One big issue for three small towns

April 23, 2012

Philomath, Ore.—Although the Philomath City Council voted to discontinue fluoridating the city’s water supply in May of 2011, voters turned the tables in a special election last month, opting to bring fluoridation back to its approximately 4,600 residents.

After the city council decision last May, a community group called Citizens for Healthy Teeth led a petition drive to bring the measure to voters in this Oregon town, located 90 miles southeast of Portland.

“Water fluoridation reduces cavities anywhere from 20 to 40 percent over a person’s lifetime and is especially important for children’s dental health,” said Bill Zepp, Oregon Dental Association executive director. “Philomath residents will now continue to enjoy the benefits of stronger dental health and the voters’ recent decision demonstrates their commitment to promoting the overall well-being of their community.”

Until the city council action last spring, Philomath had been fluoridated for about 30 years. Fluoridation is expected to start again sometime in May.

“As a practicing dentist for 34 years, I can testify to the stark difference in the number of cavities from patients that live in fluoridated cities versus those who live in nonfluoridated areas,” said Philomath dentist and ODA member Dr. Charles Baker.

“Fluoridation is a common-sense solution, and I urge all other communities in Oregon to join Philomath and the majority of the country in preventing needless tooth decay and the associated costs and suffering.”

Some 2,800 miles east of Philomath, the Borough of Shippensburg, Penn., also decided March 13 to continue fluoridating its water. Shippensburg is located about 150 miles west of Philadelphia.

Shippensburg dentist Dr. Gary Davis said Borough Authority members told him there were three main reasons why they decided to continue fluoridating.

“The entire authority was overwhelmed by the response of local professionals,” Dr. Davis said. “Dr. Mike Morehouse and I called all of the local dentists and asked them to send letters to the authority supporting community water fluoridation. We directed the dentists to the ADA website for information and encouraged them to review the ADA’s “Fluoridation Facts” publication, and every dentist in Shippensburg responded.”

Dr. Davis said Borough Authority members also told him that there was so much conflicting information on the Internet that they just did not know what to believe.

“Authority Chairperson Keith Swartz shared with me that he especially liked that the information in many of the dentists’ letters were supported with reference sources which gave them greater credibility,” he said. “Sharing references from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ADA, the U.S. Health Resources Services Administration and the Journal of Public Health Dentistry (all found in 'Fluoridation Facts’) was very effective.”

Dr. Davis added that local health professionals who have had a long-standing working relationship with members on the Authority gave their advice added credibility.

“Building relationships and building trust with Authority members before an issue occurs will be key in protecting community water fluoridation in the future,” he said.

The Borough Authority also directed its engineer to investigate the costs and processes involved in lowering the fluoride level from its current 0.9 to 1.1 parts per million range to the 0.7 level.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is currently considering making 0.7 ppm the recommended level for fluoridated water.

Finally, the city council of Aspen, Colo., also decided March 12 to continue fluoridating its water supply, but to lower its fluoridation level to 0.7 ppm.

Nestled in the Rocky Mountains about 160 miles west of Denver, the year-round population of Aspen is about 6,000, said Kelly Keeffe, a dental hygienist and regional oral health consultant for the Aspen to Parachute Dental Health Alliance.

Ms. Keeffe contacted Aspen’s dentists before the city council meeting so they could attend the meeting and offer scientific evidence supporting fluoridation.

“It was a big group effort,” said Ms. Keeffe.

“We were able to provide city council members with information thanks to the efforts of local dentists and others in the community, the Colorado Dental Association, the ADA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“The city council agreed to continue fluoridating” she added, “but they also voted to lower the fluoridation level to comply with the HHS proposed recommended level, to conduct regular random testing of the packaged fluoride before it is used and to review the issue of community water fluoridation on an annual basis.”