Fluoride Action Network

Yuba County: Fluoride debate revived

Source: Appeal-Democrat | September 23rd, 2008 | By Howard Yune
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  • Olivehurst water officials will weigh the possible addition fluoride to water supplies in much of Yuba County, a step they hope will check the rate of tooth decay in local children.

    Olivehurst Public Utility District directors last week revived discussion about fluoridating water for about 15,000 residents of Olivehurst and Plumas Lake to the south.

    If the Olivehurst district approves the plan, the two towns would become the county’s first communities to deliver fluoride in the public water system. Currently, Yuba City and Gridley are the only Mid-Valley towns that add the compound to their water.

    OPUD Manager Tim Shaw said the First 5 Yuba Commission has offered $100,000 to pay for fluoridation equipment at the district’s four water treatment plants. First 5 offered more than $50,000 for that purpose in 2004, but the district turned down that sum as insufficient, he said.

    Various North American cities have treated their water with fluoride, also the cavity-fighting ingredient in most toothpastes. But the practice also has touched off political battles sparked by opponents of fluoridation claiming the substance contributes to conditions from stained teeth to kidney failure and even rare forms of bone cancer. (Between 2000 and 2005, voters shot down measures to fluoridate public water in 38 of 79 cities from California to Massachusetts, according to Time magazine.)

    Though the Olivehurst district has not scheduled a vote on the issue, Shaw said he wanted to publicize the issue early to let Yuba County res dents have their say.

    "OPUD is a public agency, and we’re not immune to criticism after the fact by people saying ‘Why wasn’t I informed?’" said Shaw, who joined the district in 2004. "So we’re trying to get the information out there."

    In Yuba City, the City Council green-lighted fluoridation in 1998, over the protests of anti-fluoride activists and some homeowners.

    Among those who shepherded the fluoridation plan to approval was Michael Kennedy, a dentist who has practiced in the city for 18 years. Though he estimated that local tooth-decay rates have held steady in the decade since the change, Kennedy called fluoridation a valuable safeguard and backstop against two trends — lack of proper dental care for poor children and excessive, enamel-attacking sugar consumption.

    "You can fluoridate teeth, but as long as kids continue to drink Coke and Gatorade, they’ll keep getting tooth decay," he said Tuesday. "But the cavity rate has been constant, and I think it would have gotten worse without fluoridation."

    While people can receive fluoride through their toothpaste and other means, he added, adding it to city water helps those who need the most help.

    "The notion of adding something to the water is a personal thing for a lot of people," he said. "But fluoride is added to improve dental health, just like iodine is added to salt and vitamin D is added to milk. It helps the kids, the families, that can’t afford to go to the dentist."

    The Debate

    • WHY: Health agencies including the American Dental Association and World Health Organization credit the addition of fluoride to public water supplies since the 1940s with fortifying teeth and reducing the rate of tooth decay, particularly among children too poor to afford regular dental care.

    • WHY NOT: Critics have either attacked water fluoridation as ineffective — saying fluoride-enhanced toothpastes are sufficient to bolster dental health — or claim that large doses of fluoride can contribute to bone cancer, kidney damage and other maladies.

    • LOCAL EXAMPLES: Yuba City is the only Yuba-Sutter community to fluoridate its public water supply. The City Council unanimously approved the process in August 1998, despite threatened lawsuits from a San Jose-based anti-fluoridation group that sought to block treated water from reaching the city’s 8,900 water customers.

    Sources: California Dental Association, Fluoride Action Network, Appeal-Democrat staff