Bellingham voters are signing petitions to have the city add fluoride to its water supply to help protect residents from cavities.
Approximately 3,700 valid voter signatures of Bellingham residents are necessary to place the request to fluoridate the water supply to the city council. The council can then choose to implement an ordinance to fluoridate Bellingham residents’ water supply.
“It is scientifically proven … to be an economically effective way to prevent tooth decay,” said David Hemion, assistant executive director of the Washington State Dental Association.
Hemion is the campaign manager and treasurer for a group, called Bellingham Families for Fluoride, which started this year, and has brought fluoridation to the attention of the city council by collecting signatures since early May to put the issue on November’s ballot.
If voters approve the measure in November’s election, the group will begin the necessary steps to fluoridate the city’s water.
Approximately half of Washington’s water supply and two-thirds of the national supply is fluoridated, Hemion said.
Bellingham’s fluoridation equipment is funded by a $600,000 grant from the Washington Dental Service Foundation, an organization that promotes oral health to the public.
According to the Whatcom County Public Health union, 38 percent of Whatcom County adults 18 years old or older have lost a permanent tooth as a result of tooth decay or disease, and nearly 40 percent of adults ages 55 to 64 show evidence of root decay, according to the American Dental Association, Hemion said.
Dr. Mike Steinberg, a naturopathic physician and member of Citizens Against Forced Fluoride in Bellingham, said he sees many problems with fluoridation of Bellingham’s water.
“The type of fluoride they are putting in our water is a phosphorous toxic byproduct of aluminum and fertilizer manufacturing that the industry is trying to get rid of,” Steinberg said. “Fluoride helps more if it is used topically, and when it is in the water it is harder to control the dosage.”
Some demographics may be unusually susceptible to the toxic effects of fluoride and its compounds, Steinberg said. This includes people older than 65, people with deficiencies of calcium, magnesium or vitamin C, and people with cardiovascular or kidney problems, according to the U.S. Department of Health, he said.
“There are a number of questions about how safe fluoride is on bones,” Steinberg said. “High enough dosages can cause weakening of bones.”
Bellingham dentist Robert Knudson said he has no apprehension about adding fluoride to city water.
“I have concerns if it is not added,” Knudson said. “It is proven that fluoride causing cancer is bunk, and has been proven not true many times.”
Hemion said the U.S. Public Health Service has found no evidence of a connection between fluoride use and cancer in humans. The same is true of the National Cancer Institute, which determined no increased cancer risk associated with fluoridated drinking water exists, he said.
Knudson said children in particular do not get enough fluoride in their diets. Without fluoride, the enamel on teeth that only forms when teeth come in will not form properly, he said.
Knudson said Grand Rapids, Mich., was one of the first towns in the nation to fluoridate its water, and, after a couple of years, the city took the fluoride out and the number of cavities in the town’s residents increased.
“For a dentist, this is a no-brainer,” Knudson said.
Hemion said water fluoridation can reduce the number of cavities children get in their baby teeth by as much as 60 percent. Fluoridation can also reduce tooth decay in permanent adult teeth by nearly 35 percent, according to the American Dental Association, he said.
“People that feel like they don’t have a choice and think it’s a bad thing can drink bottled water,” Smith said. “But we do have a choice in the level of fluoride put in the water. We don’t have a choice in other chemicals put in our water; there is no total freedom.”
Steinberg said some people who oppose fluoridation might try boiling their drinking water to evaporate fluoride, but that does not work because fluoride ions will remain in the water. People will have to purchase high-powered water-filtration systems to filter fluoride out of their drinking water.
Steinberg said people can get involved to prevent the city from fluoridating its water by talking to the city council and letting them know they believe fluoridation is not the healthiest option.
The money Bellingham would use for fluoridation could go toward hygienists educating families in the community about positive fluoride use in items such as tea, he said.
“If the city wants to medicate me, I want to have a choice,” Steinberg said.