The debate over water fluoridation is a divisive one, with science on both sides, as the Hillsboro City Council found out on Tuesday.
Proponents of water fluoridation have asked the council to send the question to the voters in November. Opponents told the council it was a bad idea which shouldn’t be discussed further.
City voters likely won’t be asked decide the issue in November. Several councilors said there’s too much information to consider right now to rush it onto the ballot.
The Hillsboro chapter of Stand for Children brought the issue to a council work session. They advocate fluoridating the city’s water supply for the sake of underprivileged kids, who don’t get access to regular dental care.
“We’ve seen significant tooth decay in young kids,” said April Love, an area dentist. “It’s amazing the number of 8 and 9-year-olds I see who have lost their permanent molars.”
Stand for Children contends that, if Hillsboro added a small amount of fluoride to its water supply, area dentists wouldn’t see the tooth decay they’re seeing among kids. They also pointed out that groups like the American Medical Association, American Dental Association, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization have long supported water fluoridation.
The Tualatin Valley Water District (TVWD) and city of Forest Grove currently fluoridate their water supplies; Love said it costs 70 cents per TVWD customer annually.
Campbell said it was “erroneous” to say that fluoride protects teeth against every kind of decay. She pointed to studies that show 90 percent of all decay in permanent teeth isn’t affected at all by fluoride.
She added that one of the main forms of child tooth decay is from parents feeding them sugary liquids in baby bottles. That sugar leads to decay that fluoride can’t touch.
“I urge you not to believe that fluoride is going to handle the tooth decay problems in your city,” she told the council.
Campbell also pointed out that fruits and vegetables are treated with fluoride-based pesticides, and that fruit juices have a high amount of fluoride in them. “Our children are absolutely being overdosed,” she said.
Both sides agreed that water fluoridation can lead to fluorosis, a condition where the teeth develop discolored spots. Love said it doesn’t indicate any other bodily problem. Campbell said dentists don’t have the license to say that, and she pointed to studies that suggest fluoridation may lead to bone and hip problems among senior citizens.
Adding fluoride to the city’s water supply wouldn’t be easy. Water comes into Hillsboro’s system in nine different locations, so the city would have to buy land and develop injection facilities at each of those points, said Joe Thompson, water department director.
The city also sells water to other communities, like Cornelius, Gaston and the L.A. Water Cooperative. It would be difficult to impossible for those communities to get water elsewhere.
“Are we deciding this for them?” asked Councilor Joe Keizur. “We need more information.”
Keizur and Councilor Jim Frost said there were too many variables to get this on the November ballot. Others agreed.
“I personally believe, fluoride or not, the dental health of those kids is not going to improve if we can’t get services to these kids,” said Mayor Tom Hughes.