REDMOND, Ore. (AP) – Dentist Mark Jensen of Bend can always tell when someone is not from these parts. It’s all in the smile.
“When people move here, you can look at their teeth and tell that they’ve come from fluoridated areas,” said Jensen of Bend, the past president of the Oregon Dental Association. “It’s incredible.”
Less than a quarter of Oregonians drink fluoridated water. Residents in the many areas without it have been skeptical, deciding that messing with the water supply is not a wise trade off for good-looking teeth.
The Deschutes County Public Health Community Advisory Board recently voted to support fluoridation, renewing a debate that has flickered in Central Oregon since the 1950s.
“I really think its time has come,” said Dan Peddycord, director of the county’s health department. “The dental health care of Oregon’s children is going in a backwards direction.”
The advisory board vote is a preliminary step that carries no legal weight. Only the agencies that regulate water systems, such as the Bend and Redmond city councils, have the authority to fluoridate water, said Tom Charbonneau, a regional engineer with the Oregon Department of Human Services.
“Generally what happens is they end up voting on it,” Charbonneau said.
Bend city officials approved a fluoridation ordinance in 1952, after a group of women expressed concern about tooth decay.
Anti-fluoridation residents succeeded in getting the measure on a citywide ballot, and voters backed fluoridation. But opponents forced another vote and voters approved an ordinance prohibiting fluoridation of Bend’s water supply in 1956.
Another attempt to add fluoride to the Bend water supply failed in 2000.
Opponents of fluoridation see the chemical as an unregulated industrial waste product that could cause negative health effects. Moreover, they say there’s no definitive proof that fluoridated water prevents tooth decay.
A nonprofit called Oregon Citizens for Safe Drinking Water has fought a handful of attempts to mandate fluoridation by the state Legislature.
“This stuff is so toxic that it could not be dumped anywhere but in a hazardous waste facility if it weren’t marketed as a product,” said Lynne Campbell, executive director of the group.
But fluoridation supporters say there is a need for it, especially with the looming state budget crisis. A proposed budget recently released by Gov. Ted Kulongoski recommends adult dental care be cut from the Oregon Health Plan.
“Tooth decay is a disease, it’s that simple,” Bill Zepp, executive director of the Oregon Dental Association. “It’s preventable and fluoride is the most effective, economical way to do it.”