One of the nation’s oldest public policy debates is again bubbling to the surface in Oregon — whether it’s wise or necessary to add fluoride to more public drinking water.
HB 2742, introduced by state Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, would require cities with populations of 10,000 to fluoridate their water supply if they can afford to do so. (All mid-valley cities have fluoridated drinking water.)
The bill passed the House in March, but it is stalled in a Senate committee, so its proponents have launched a second attempt by adding nearly identical language to another bill in hopes that it will succeed along a more navigable political route.
Instead of trying this approach, its proponents should slow way down in consideration of whether this idea is another whose time has come — and gone.
Fluoridation became a big push after World War II, in an era that saw the U.S. public form an enduring love affair with all things technological and scientific.
However, the intervening decades have brought some new advances and information that casts into question whether the risks of fluoride in drinking water outweigh its benefits.
Years ago, fluoride was not available as it is now in many toothpastes, mouthwashes, chewing gum as well as a common treatment in the dentist’s office.
Those who oppose fluoridation of drinking water argue that this sets up a situation for too much of a good thing. Fluoride already occurs naturally in water. This stuff binds to bone at the molecular level. That is why, in small quantities, its primary benefit is that it strengthens tooth enamel from decay. But too much can make bones brittle.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has growing reservations. One HHS committee assigned to investigate fluoridation cautioned:
“There is some suggestion from epidemiological studies that the incidence of certain bone fractures may be greater in some communities with either naturally high or adjusted fluoride levels.”
The anti-fluoride folks are gaining ground. According to one, the Fluoride Action Network, more than 100 U.S. and Canadian cities have either rejected or discontinued adding fluoride to their drinking water since 1990 (as of 2003).
There’s no urgent need to try sneaking this bill into law. Plenty of sources or fluoride exist nowadays. What’s in shorter supply is open public debate on contentious issues and an oversupply of maneuvering to enact laws over public objection.
Theresa Novak is the opinion page editor at the Corvallis Gazette-Times.