Set aside the boos and the recall threats from a vocal minority. Forget, for a moment, the angry references in public forums over the past month to fascism and forced medication.
Wednesday was a great day for Portland. The City Council’s 5-0 vote to add fluoride to Portland’s drinking water will translate, over time, into a better quality of life for generations of Oregonians: fewer children with rampant tooth decay, fewer adults missing work for costly dental repairs, fewer people whose teeth woes become chronic health problems.
Though this decision to fluoridate came about a half-century later than necessary, it’s never too late.
Oregon has one of the nation’s lowest rates of fluoridation and a significant number of residents without access to regular dental care. These two factors help explain the high decay rates among children, the high numbers of people who visit emergency rooms with severe dental problems and the startling number of adults who’ve lost all or most of their teeth to decay by age 65. This state neglects its teeth, and it shows.
Fluoridation is the most cost-effective way to tackle the problem, as proponents have said for years. Though the payoff is greatest for children, whose teeth are still developing, adults also benefit from having their teeth constantly remineralized by a tiny amount of fluoride.
None of this is new information, of course. Yet until now, Portland has ignored science and chosen not to fluoridate its massive water supply, driving the state’s fluoridation rate into the tank. Until now, the same loud minority that squashed fluoridation bills in the Oregon Legislature also controlled the debate locally, turning a seemingly innocuous public-health matter into a bizarrely radioactive issue that few elected officials dared to touch.
That era ended on Wednesday, when the council — led by Commissioner Randy Leonard, who is rarely bullied by anyone — decided to cast a unanimous vote in favor of public health.
The vote is sure to be challenged. Fluoridation opponents are already vowing to place an initiative on the ballot that would forbid the use of fluoride, which they will cleverly frame as an industrial byproduct and poison rather than as a naturally occurring ion. To that prospect, we say: Bring it on. Portlanders can handle a public vote on fluoride. They’ve just needed their city council to lead the way.