An analysis from the City Club of Portland concludes that Portland has a “substantial dental health problem,” and 11 of 12 committee members studying the issue recommend fluoridation.
The hot-button issue resurfaced last year after the Portland City Council voted to fluoridate water for residents of Portland and some suburbs. Opponents then collected enough signatures to suspend the plan and force a vote. Portlanders will cast ballots on Measure 26-151 on May 21.
The City Club’s full membership will vote on the issue April 19. The nonprofit has previously endorsed fluoride five times since 1955.
“There’s a very large problem, and the current way of trying to address the dental health issues aren’t sufficient,” said Kristina Holm, an attorney at Perkins Coie who wrote the committee’s majority recommendation.
According to the majority report, scientific evidence shows that fluoridating water at the proposed level of 0.7 parts per million is not only safe but an ideal way to help reduce cavities and reach people who don’t have access to good dental care.
It notes that Oregon children have about twice the rate of tooth decay as those in Washington, where fluoridated water is in greater supply.
Michael Crean, a retired civil engineer, wrote the minority report. He noted that federal officials in 2011 decreased the recommended fluoride level to 0.7 parts per million. Because fluoride also would be available from sources beyond drinking water, Crean said he worried about overexposure in children.
Crean said he also was unswayed when dental experts testified but were unwilling to quantify how fluoridation would reduce cavity rates.
“None of them would give it,” he said. “They weren’t going to go out on a limb to say 10 percent, because if it didn’t happen we’d check it, and they’d look silly.”
The study did note that if Portland approves fluoride, any measurable effect likely wouldn’t be known until 2022, when data from children born in 2015 would be collected as part of a state survey conducted every five years.
Former Mayor Sam Adams, now executive director at the City Club, was among City Council members who voted in favor of fluoridation. Greg Wallinger, who directs research and policy for the City Club, said Adams recused himself and wasn’t involved with the committee or its report.