The Yolo County Board of Supervisors took up the issue of fluoridation Tuesday, with a majority in favor of adding the chemical to local drinking water as part of the Woodland-Davis Surface Water Project.
“It’s really a no-brainer. Something for which in my scholarly opinion the data is so clear and so convincing,” said Dr. Michael Wilkes, professor of medicine and public health at UC Davis and chairman of the Yolo County Health Council.
Supervisor Don Saylor put forth a resolution to support fluoridation in advance of the water project, which will take surface water from the Sacramento River and pipe it to a Woodland facility for treatment. Adding the fluoridation equipment while the facility is being built will be cheaper than adding it later — “leading to significant cost savings if this goes through now,” said Carole Pirruccello, a registered dietitian and member of the Health Council.
Another Health Council member, retired pediatrician Dr. Rick Baker, also noted that it continues to be cost effective after installation: “For every dollar invested in fluoridation, there’s $38 saved in dental treatments.”
Both Wilkes and Pirruccello spent much of their time rebutting the claims of fluoridation critics, who say the chemical is not shown to prevent tooth decay but can cause unwanted side effects such as discoloration of the teeth, bone disease, stomach cancer and even lowered IQ.
“Community water fluoridation for decades has been studied and studied, and been shown to decrease tooth decay at least by 25 percent,” said Pirruccello, a Woodland resident.
She added, “The city of West Sacramento has been fluoridated since 2008-2009. They’re leaders in this effort. And preschoolers have seen a 10 percent reduction of visible tooth decay.”
As for side effects, that’s “really a silly debate,” Dr. Wilkes said.
He said a person could never drink enough water to ingest fluoride at toxic levels. Stories of brittle bones or osteoporosis are “lots of hoopla and fear.”
“There is really no chemical that I’m aware of that has been more studied in more people,” he said, referring to hundreds of large-scale studies over several decades. If it did have negative side effects, “we would have seen it.”
One public speaker, Alan Pryor, didn’t think the issue was silly, and told the board that “There are a number of misconceptions that were conveyed to you by the good doctor.”
Pryor said there is “serious concern” for infants being fed formula with fluoridated water, as even low doses of the chemical can cause harm. He also said the data is not clear on the beneficial effects of fluoridation: Japan has rejected the additive for decades, and yet they “have as low or lower cavity rates than we have in the U.S.”
“I encourage you not to rush to judgment on this,” he said. “There’s a lot of science that you have not been made aware of.”
Dr. Constance Caldwell, the county’s medical officer, stepped forward to respond to some of Pryor’s comments. She said the issue of baby formula was, according to the American Dental Association, that it can cause mild fluorosis — which she described as “a mild lacy-type staining on the teeth” — unless the formula is sometimes mixed with bottled water.
“That’s quite different than a strong warning against,” she said.
“Fluoridation is not the only thing that helps prevent dental decay,” she said. But along with other measures, such as reducing consumption of sugary beverages, “it goes a long way.”
A majority of supervisors sided with members of the Health Council, which advises the board on all aspects of health in Yolo County. Supervisors Mike McGowan, Matt Rexroad and Jim Provenza all expressed support of fluoridating the new water source once it’s up and running.
Fluoridation “was a big step in West Sacramento, I’m very proud of the fact that we got that done,” said McGowan. “The public health benefits far, far outweigh the concerns.”
“My community will be a better place,” with fluoridation, Rexroad said, adding he hoped to see it for both Woodland and Davis.
“It’s my hope that both of these cities will actively consider and approve fluoridation in the public water supply,” Saylor agreed.
Supervisor Duane Chamberlain voted against the resolution, however, saying he did not believe the county should tell cities what to do, and adding, “I think our basic nutrition has a huge effect on our teeth, much more than fluoridation.”
The resolution passed 4-1.