If you think you are getting fluoridated water when you turn on your faucet — you are so wrong.
Unless you are a customer being served by the Port Hueneme Water agency, which started fluoridating in November of 1998, you are merely getting good old-fashioned H20 — and a soupcon of chloramine. In fact, Port Hueneme, Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo are the only fluoridators in the entire Tri-counties area.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, in a move that will impact nearly every city in Ventura County, did vote to add fluoride to the drinking water back in February 2003. Because of a number of delays, however, it will not be delivering on that commitment until late winter 2007 or early spring of 2008.
Assemblywoman Jackie Speier’s fluoridation bill, which became law in 1996, included the magic words “pending the availability of private donations, federal grants, or other sources to fund the capital and associated costs.”
Although proponents have made an effort to put their money where their mouths are, the financial resources coughed up by the California Endowment Fund, the California Dental Association, Delta Dental of California and others are just not adequate to cover everyone. Perhaps that’s why only a paltry 30 percent of Golden State municipalities currently fluoridate.
The MWD, however, won the jackpot, money-wise. The California Endowment will be ponying up $5.5 million for the conversion, according to Jon Ziv, of Oxnard, on the implementation committee of the state fluoridation task force.
Six decades ago, dentists, buttressed by a study comparing dental records in communities with and without naturally occurring fluoride in the water supply, started envisioning a world in which cavities would become as scarce as hen’s teeth.
While advocates hail fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health accomplishments of the 20th century, not everybody is convinced that delivering fluoride through the tap is the most effective route to “Look Ma, no cavities.” In fact, citizen activists, environmentalists and maverick scientists are battling tooth and nail against such pro-fluoridation powerhouses as the American Dental Association and the Center for Disease Control.
The ADA not only argues that water fluoridation effectively reduces dental decay by 15 percent to 40 percent but points out that the converse is likewise true. In cities halting water fluoridation, the number of cavities can spike from 30 percent to 100 percent.
Advocates also relish highlighting the statistic that every dollar spent on community water fluoridation results in a savings of $38 in dental treatment costs.
Opponents, however, contend that supporters are either lying through their teeth, or, at least, relying on research that is inherently biased or flawed.
Although foes of fluoride no longer insist, as Gen. Jack D. Ripper did in “Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” “fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face,” the more conspiracy-minded among them maintain that fluoridation merely offers a cheap way for phosphate fertilizer companies to dispose of toxic waste products.
In “Dr. Strangelove,” Ripper says: “Do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies under way to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk … ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children’s ice cream!” In fact, Ripper’s worst nightmare became a reality in the ’50s. Fluoride was inadvertently introduced into hundreds of food products through the water used in the manufacturing process.
Could Americans be getting too much of a good thing? In 1997, under pressure from fluoride foes, the Food and Drug Administration toughened the warning label on fluoridated toothpaste tubes: “If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a poison-control center right away.”
Even discounting the grab bag of unsubstantiated links to Alzheimer’s, attention deficit disorder, heart disease, mental retardation, arthritis, and AIDS, health fears have unquestionably helped to reverse mandatory water fluoridation laws across the nation.
Science seems to support the claim that excessive fluoride increases the risk of bone fracture, the CDC just reported that dental fluorosis (the pitting and/or brown stains on teeth caused by too much fluoride) affects 32 percent of American children, and, most recently, a Harvard scientist has been accused of burying evidence linking fluoridation to a rare form of bone cancer in young boys.
Things are quiet now in Ventura County. Nothing is going to happen for two more years. Still, the fluoride wars are hardly over.
When the ponytailed mayor of Santa Monica, Michael Feinstein, discovered that the Ventura City Council was considering fluoridating its water supply, he offered up a little free advice: “I would expect if (Ventura) chooses to make a decision, they’re going to have to choose one interest group over the other,” he told The Star in November 2001. “There will be no consensus and no conciliation between the sides.”
He was so right.
Beverly Kelley, Ph.D., who writes every other Monday for The Star, is an author (“Reelpolitik” and “Reelpolitik II”) and professor in the Communication Department at California Lutheran University.