Fluoride in the city’s water supply is the best thing since sliced bread or it’s a dangerous poison, depending on whose point of view one shares.
At today’s meeting of the McPherson City Commission, both proponents and opponents of the proposed fluoridation of city water were present.
Martha Hagen, director of the McPherson County Health Department and a representative of the McPherson Partners for Better Oral Health, presented a petition and a proposed ordinance directing the fluoridation of water by the Board of Public Utilities.
The proposal was presented under the initiative and referendum statue of the state. As such, the city has two choices — to adopt the ordinance or to put it to a referendum (a vote of the city residents). According to City Attorney Phil Lacey, who said he had not seen a copy of the proposed ordinance, there is a legal question as to what types of ordinances are proper subjects for initiatives.
“We are looking into that,” he added.
Hagen, who reviewed materials in favor of fluoridation, announced that a grant is available for start-up costs of a fluoridation program, including costs for equipment and a one-year supply of the chemical. It has been estimated that start-up costs could range up to $120,000.
Hagen said the last election in which voters weighed in on the fluoride issue was in 1968. Therefore, anyone born after 1947 would not have had the opportunity to vote on this question.
McPherson dentist Dr. Ken Cotton reported fluoride is a naturally occurring element in the soil and it is present in water, food and beverages in varying degrees.
“Community fluoridation is simply adjusting the natural fluoride level to the optimum level to prevent tooth decay,” Cotton said.
Most people use fluoride-containing products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash, which work for anyone with teeth. System fluoride (ingested) works best in children and young people whose teeth are actively growing, although benefits can be life-long for them.
Cotton cited statistics indicating water fluoridation is the most cost-effective, practical way to prevent dental decay and there is no need for a behavior change by the individual in order to reap the benefits. He also said dental research indicates billions of dollars can be saved in oral health care in the United States as persons have fewer cavities.
“The United Methodist Health Ministry Fund grant money can help to subsidize some of the initial costs, and the on-going costs are well worth the investment,” he added.
Ronda Tammen, a registered nurse and health and nutrition coordinator for Head Start in McPherson and Marion counties, also spoke in favor of fluoridation. She said low-income and disadvantaged children and adults are among the hardest hit with dental problems and most of them have no dental insurance.
In the McPherson Head Start program alone, more than $5,500 was spent in dental restorative care for four children in the past year. Fluoridation of water would help, she believes.
Greg Hill, representing the Kansas Dental Association and speaking in favor of fluoridation, presented a packet of information including a booklet entitled “Fluoridation Facts,” published by the American Dental Association.
Speaking in opposition to the proposed addition of fluoride to city water were representatives of the Fluoride Awareness Team of Kansas, representing the Hutchinson, Wichita and McPherson areas.
Wayne Logback, Hutchinson, said he stood before commissioners as a person who had been personally harmed by fluoride. He listed two medical conditions that cleared up once he stopped drinking fluoridated water.
He also pointed out that a part of the grant states that if the city should stop fluoridating the water within a 10-year period, the grant funds would have to be repaid.
Dr. Robert Hetrick, Wichita, said scientific evidence could be found to rebut “nearly every point they (the proponents) made.” He said that instead of considering an ordinance to permit the addition of fluoride to the city water, the city should be considering an ordinance to prohibit the delivery of medication through the water supply.
When the city delivers what he termed “medical treatment without medical supervision,” he said it deprives citizens of the right to refuse medication. He also said he has information that indicates fluoride is not safe, not effective and does not do what it claims to do.
“If people want fluoride, they can get it cheaply (from other sources),” Hetrick stated.
Then he asked if persons would choose for their personal physician someone who prescribed medication without knowing anything about them, including whether they had allergies to the medication, without knowing how much they would take and without ever doing a follow-up to see how the medication affected the patient.
Betty Allen, McPherson, said there are many sources of fluoride for persons who choose to use it for themselves or their children. These range from toothpastes and mouth rinses to many types of foods, including tea, canned fish, apples, beets, carrots, soda pop and cabbage.
“I believe the fluoride existing in our water supply today, plus the other sources available, is enough,” she said, adding, “There’s no way the city can monitor the effects of this added fluoride on our residents.”
Inman resident Connie Newcomb, owner of The Herb House, said she had spent the past 20 years assisting people with their health care needs.
“It’s not reasonable to put something toxic in the water,” she said. “Do we really want to dump this substance into our water?”
Addressing the issue of “poor children” needing fluoridation to help prevent cavities, Newcomb said she raised five children without dental insurance and they all qualified for free lunches at school. Yet, between them, they had only a couple of cavities.
“Being poor does not keep you from having good dental care,” she stated.
Instead of promoting fluoride, she said time and money would be better spent promoting education to persons on how to take care of health issues. “The more people can stay away from drugs, from anything toxic, the better off they will be,” Newcomb said.
Following comments, Mayor Vern Dossett said, “It’s obvious we have some diverse thoughts.”
Commissioners said they will study the issue and plan to have public information sessions prior to making a decision on how to proceed.