LEBANON — Less than six years after Lebanon began fluoridating its drinking water, dentists say it’s too early to see results. But they want to keep the project going.
Lebanon started adding fluoride to its water in the fall of 2001 in line with a City Council decision in January 2000.
The benefits of fluoridation would be hard to measure in the population of my practice after just this amount of time, said Dennis Clark, who’s practiced dentistry in Lebanon for 25 years. “The beneficial effects will be most observable in a generation.”
The question arises because of House Bill 3099, now pending in the Oregon House Committee on Health Care, which would require Oregon cities of 10,000 or more to fluoridate their drinking water.
Albany, Lebanon, Sweet Home and Corvallis all fluoridate, with Lebanon doing so most recently.
Clark said the mechanism of protection is most effective when the fluoride is incorporated into the enamel as the teeth form, in the first months of a person’s life.
“For instance, in cities like San Francisco or St. Louis, where fluoridation has been done for many generations now, I’m told they rarely see badly decayed teeth,” he said.
Lebanon dentist John Shader agreed.
“Maybe at 20 years you’ll see results. But I don’t think you can dispute the benefits,” he said.
One of the main benefits is prevention of tooth decay, especially among people who can’t afford dental care, said Corvallis dentist Janet Peterson.
“We see more tooth decay in low-income families, due to a variety of factors,” she said. “Most middle class people don’t see the problem, but it’s rampant.”
Peterson, a past president of the Oregon Dental Association, also said she can frequently see a difference between her Corvallis patients and clients from Newport, a non-fluoridating city, or those who grew up on well water.
Fluoridation has been disputed for a variety of reasons.
Some claim it increases the risk of cancer or degrades the environment.
Brownsville, a city of roughly 1,500, has always rejected fluoridation because of the cost.
“For a city this size, it’s expensive,” City Planner Bill Sattler said. “It’s also incredibly hazardous and poisonous to work with.”
Lebanon Environmental Operations Manager Darrel McLaughlin said he’s not aware of any problems in Lebanon caused by the fluoride.
Liquid fluoride is shipped in several times per year and pumped directly into the drinking water at the water treatment plant, he said.
“It’s a fairly easy process at a minimal cost compared to the city’s water treatment operation,” he said.
While many dentists strongly support fluoridation, they concede it’s not going to eliminate tooth decay.
“In my practice, the most destructive thing people are doing to their teeth continues to be drinking soda pop, frequently and over prolonged periods, regular or sugar free,” Clark said.