PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Portland Mayor Sam Adams responded with pride after receiving a compliment on his teeth Friday: “These teeth grew up on fluoride — Newport, Oregon, fluoride.”
The city he governs could soon join the list of places that add the mineral to its water supply to fight tooth decay.
Adams announced he will join commissioners Randy Leonard and Nick Fish in support of fluoridation, giving the pro-fluoride bloc a majority on the five-member council. A date for the council vote has not been scheduled, but it will come soon because Adams and Leonard leave office at the end of the year.
The mayor said his decision, first announced on Twitter, was a “pretty darn easy call” and will fill a hole in the city’s health safety net.
Portland is the second-largest city in the country without fluoride in its water, behind San Jose, Calif., according to the American Dental Association. The water district serving San Jose has voted to begin fluoridation, but money to do so hasn’t been raised.
Many in Portland and the state at large have long opposed public fluoridation. While 73 percent of the U.S. population drinks water treated with fluoride, the rate is less than 25 percent in Oregon.
Adams said Oregon’s children suffer from much higher rates of tooth decay than kids in neighboring states, and noted that the problem is especially stubborn for lower-income children whose parents can’t afford dentists.
“I’m all for Portland standing up and being its wonderful, weird self, but not in this regard,” he said.
Portland voters have three times rejected fluoridation, most recently in 1980. The issue had not been on the public radar until early August, when The Oregonian reported that a coalition of health and other organizations had been lobbying the City Council to fluoridate the water, and gained the support of Leonard, who oversees the Portland Water Bureau.
City Hall quickly received hundreds of calls from supporters and opponents of fluoridation, which would cost an estimated $5 million.
Roger Burt, 69, a member of the anti-fluoride group Oregon Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, said the group was not ready to divulge whether it would collect signatures to force a public vote on the matter.
The retired addictions counselor said studies show fluoridation hurts child brain development, resulting in lower IQs. He said it can also cause autism, learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other problems.
Adams urged Portlanders to go to the Internet and study the issue for themselves. He said the evidence in favor of fluoridation is “sound, rigorous and incredibly compelling.”
As for the anti-fluoride argument: “I find it to be less sound, more based on emotions and rhetoric.”
Pediatric dentist Andrea Beltzner supports the proposal.
“I see kids in this practice every week that come in with rampant decay, cavities, in 16 of their 20 teeth,” Beltzner said. “I’m talking about 2-year-old, 3-year-old children.”
Beltzner said friends on the East Coast are “floored” when she tells them about the degree of tooth decay she encounters in Portland, especially in middle- and high-income patients.
“I have two kids. They get fluoride supplements,” Beltzner said. “There is no way I want them growing up without that.”
Associated Press writer Nigel Duara contributed to this report.