Healdsburg Mayor Jim Wood is a dentist who believes in the effectiveness of fluoridated water in combating tooth decay. But he won’t be writing the argument against a November ballot measure to remove fluoride from the city’s water.
Wood on Monday night convinced his fellow council members to have a group of health professionals instead write a defense of fluoride for voters to consider.
“They have more expertise than I on this issue,” he said of Save Our Smiles, a loose group of professionals he said has worked on fluoridation issues in Sonoma County.
Healdsburg, the only city in Sonoma County to fluoridate its water, has been doing so since voters approved the practice in 1952. But a group of anti-fluoride activists gathered more than sufficient signatures to put the issue on the ballot to try to get voters to end fluoridation.
It’s part of an even larger struggle activists are waging to keep fluoride from being added to the Sonoma County Water Agency’s system, which is delivered to Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Windsor, Sonoma Valley and northern Marin.
The proposal — including how fluoride might affect fish — is currently being studied, with the findings to be delivered to the board of supervisors, probably by the end of the year, Sonoma County Director of Health Services Rita Scardaci said Monday.
Defenders of fluoridated drinking water say the evidence shows it is overwhelmingly safe and prevents tooth decay.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the American Dental Association all stand behind it.
But fluoride critics claim it is a toxic hazard that can cause fluorosis, or discoloring of the teeth, as well as skeletal fluorosis, leading to pain in the bones and joints, and other medical issues.
They say it amounts to a form of mass medication that isn’t necessary when people who want fluoride can get it in toothpaste, mouthwash or by visiting their dentist.
On Monday, Laura Wilson, a Santa Rosa dentist who spoke to the Healdsburg Council, described fluoride as more akin to poison and said that’s why people are advised to call poison control center if they swallow toothpaste.
She asserted that rates of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease and emphysema all spiked when chlorine was added to water systems and “fluoride can (also) cause all those things.”
But defenders of fluoride say repeated studies have not found a clear link between fluoridation and cancer, for example, and over the decades it has not posed any significant health risk in the United States.
Since the Healdsburg City Council placed the measure on the ballot, activists have showed up at subsequent council meetings to ask the city to put warning labels in utility bills advising residents not to mix city water with baby formula for infants under 6 months old.
They cite information from the CDC that it may increase chances of mottling of tooth enamel when the babies get their teeth.
Dawna Gallagher-Stroeh, a nutritionist and former Rohnert Park councilwoman who spearheaded the signature-gathering campaign for the Healdsburg measure, told the City Council “it’s not your fault it’s fluoridated. It got voted in by the people. It needs to be voted out by the people.”