American philosopher John Dewey believed the key to solving societal problems was the “scientific approach.” Aspects include being critical and objective, and drawing conclusions based on the whole of the evidence instead of selectively choosing only the evidence that will support a conclusion already made.
The present debate about whether or not to add fluoride to Portland’s water supply could benefit from Dewey’s suggestion. This not only applies to the various claims being made about the adding of fluoride, but also to the process of determining that policy.
My personal background is in this second area. I have been involved in numerous local civic matters over the years and have studied theories of democracy. It seems to me that many supporters of adding fluoride feel a lengthy debate is rather unnecessary; the evidence too overwhelming. I disagree. I have seen “experts” miss things and make mistakes. So, I believe more time and effort on this is in everyone’s best interest.
I have a few ideas that I think can help. First, the decision to add fluoride to Portland’s water should be made by the next City Council and not the current one. Not only would this allow more time for debate, but it would also give voters an opportunity to quiz the candidates vying for the City Council position before the November vote.
Second, more time and effort needs to be spent on the issue of freedom of choice. This is important.
Third, to solve the problem of high rates of tooth decay, other approaches should be pushed first. I have not seen a dentist in about a decade, and yet my teeth are in fairly good shape. Why? Probably in because I brush my teeth with fluoridated toothpaste usually at least five times a day, plus I floss. Why don’t we start a high-profile campaign to promote these practices, especially to children? Such an effort could include a cartoon superhero wielding with a large toothbrush with paste and a slogan like “After sweets, save your teeth!”
As a society, we need to change our mindset with regard to assertive dental health practices. Earlier this year, after eating my lunch at a local mall’s food court, I went to the mall’s nearby men’s room to brush my teeth. As I brushed, a voice to my right said: “Sir, you can’t brush your teeth here.” I turned to the young security guard who had said those words and asked, “Really?”
He explained that people could use the toilet facilities and wash their hands, but nothing else. We need to get shopping malls and other institutions to encourage teeth brushing, not discourage it.
“Other cities are doing it, so that means we should do it too” is not a good enough reason for us to start fluoridating our water. We are Portland. Let others follow our lead after we come up with an effective, freedom-of-choice-respecting solution to our high rates of tooth decay.
Eriks Zarins lives in Southeast Portland.