When given an opportunity to make an electoral decision about fluoridating the city’s drinking water, voters in Texarkana, Ark., decided they didn’t want to risk potential physical health problems for the promise of better dental health.

Regardless of what proponents and opponents may have thought of the issue, it was disposed of in the correct manner by letting the people themselves choose whether to allow fluoride to be added to the city’s water supply.

Now the Arkansas Legislature may decide in its upcoming legislative session to mandate adding fluoride to all the state’s water supplies. Rep. Tommy Roebuck, D-Arkadelphia and also a dentist, says fluoridation is the “best way that we have to improve oral health” for all Arkansans, young and old alike, and is considering proposing legislation regarding water fluoridation for the next session.

While there may be some benefit to dental health when water is fluoridated, critics say there’s far too much risk of potential health problems from what they contend is a toxic industrial waste product that tests link to cancer, impaired kidney function, thyroid problems, neurotoxicity and other impairments. Their position is that the limited benefits of fluoridated water are outweighed by eventual side effects Arkansans would suffer if fluoride becomes a mandatory water supply additive. They cite, for example, labels on fluoridated toothpaste that warn of possible health problems if the toothpaste is ingested by children or adults with underlying health conditions.

There is a wide variety of opinion on whether fluoride is a benefit or a hazard. From a consumer’s standpoint, they can choose to use fluoridated products or not as they see fit. But if the state mandates water fluoridation, it will be imposing its will about fluoridation on the people of Arkansas without getting their consent. That’s bad government.

Like Texarkana, all the other municipalities in Arkansas should have the local option of fluoridating their water or not, with voters or local government bodies making that decision. Most likely the result would be the same as it was here in 2002, but it should be their choice regardless of potential benefits.