The Wichita Eagle
Some Kansas senators want to send a message to the city of Wichita: Fluoridate your water.
A Senate committee has voted to introduce legislation requiring all Kansas cities to fluoridate their water if grant money is available.
“It’s clearly pointed to Wichita,” said Sen. Henry Helgerson, D-Wichita.
Legislators are still checking to see whether grants are available to add the cavity-fighting chemical to water. The state is also looking into whether it has public water funds it could withhold from cities that don’t fluoridate, said Sen. David Adkins, R-Leawood, a member of the Ways and Means Committee who plans to introduce the bill.
Wichitans have twice voted down attempts to fluoridate their water. Opponents say adding fluoride to drinking water is prescribing medicine to the masses.
Wichita is among the nation’s few big cities that doesn’t fluoridate its water as a way to improve residents’ dental health.
That’s “shameful,” said Sen. Christine Downey D-Inman. “It’s so clearly helpful, particularly for children who don’t have regular dental care.”
And the problem with poor dental care seems to be getting worse, said Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, who works as a speech pathologist in Wichita schools.
“I have been shocked at the condition of some of their children’s teeth,” she said.
It appears the bill would be the first time the state has required fluoridation in any form, Adkins said. A hearing is at least a couple of weeks away because the bill is still being written.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls fluoridation one of the greatest health advances of the past century, the idea has been debated in Wichita for decades.
Fluoridation is so controversial that the Wichita City Council refused to discuss it in 1999, when an advisory health board last made a push to fluoridate water.
“It’s clearly one of the issues Wichita loves to fight about,” Adkins said.
Wichita Vice Mayor Sharon Fearey said fluoridation is not something the council has discussed recently or had been planning to talk about soon.
Still, it’s something that should be decided on a local level rather than a state level, she said.
“Fluoridating Wichita water only affects Wichitans and should be decided by Wichitans,” she said.
In 1964 and 1978, Wichita voters turned down proposals to fluoridate the water.
That was 25 years ago, and information on the topic has changed, said fluoridation advocate Kathy Dittmer, who was a member of the advisory health board that recommended the procedure. It’s time to vote again, she said.
Communities have been adding fluoride to drinking water since 1945. The CDC says adding a small amount reduces cavities by as much as 40 percent.
Locally, the Kansas Dental Association, dentists and others support fluoridation.
Local fluoridation opponent Robert Hetrick, a retired psychologist and member of the Fluoride Awareness Team of Kansas, said people have the right to avoid medical treatment.
“If it’s in the water, you can’t,” he said.
Hetrick also said that any drug or chemical has a negative effect on people, something that could cause problems for those who drink treated water all their lives.
Adkins said the bill is a way for the state to show that dental health is a priority.
The thousands of children and families who line up for free dental care each year — including those from Wichita — demonstrate the problem, Adkins said.
“It just goes to show you what kind of demand there is to having access to taking care of young persons’ teeth,” he said.