Fluoride Action Network

‘It is contentious’: Debate continues over adding fluoride to Spokane water

February 16th, 2022

SPOKANE, Wash. — Nearly half of people in Washington already use fluoridated water, but not Spokane. The city council is moving forward with a local study that could change what comes out of your sink.

More than 20 years ago, the public voted against adding fluoride to water. Now, in a 5-2 vote, the City Council said it wants to start an engineering study on adding fluoride into Spokane’s water.

“Public health can get kind of messy,” said Dr. Martin Bailey. He’s a dentist at Comfort Dental. He says he moved to Spokane from a city that was fluoridating their water and sees more cavities here than he did there.

The mineral is in toothpaste already and comes out of our sinks, but the natural levels in Spokane range from .01 to .5 milligrams per liter. The Washington State Board of Health recommends .7 as an optimal level of fluoride.

“What fluoride does, as we ingest it, it replaces an element inside of Hydroxyapatite,” Bailey added.

Hydroxyapatite is something that makes up enamel which makes our teeth stronger and fights against decay. In a study from Spokane’s Health Department, more than six out of every 10 third graders in Spokane had a cavity in a permanent tooth in 2015. Dr. Bailey says adding fluoride to water will prevent this kind of problem.

“I think there will be less dental decay in Spokane, especially among lower socio-economic groups who don’t have access to as much dental care or oral hygiene instruction,” he said.

Spokane is the largest city in Washington without fluoridated drinking water. It sits next to Kootenai County which also doesn’t fluoridate its water. That’s something members of Safe Water Spokane don’t want to see change.

“It is contentious because people should have a choice. When you put it into the water system, there is no choice,” said Jeff Irish. He’s the chair for Safe Water Spokane. “Everybody is being given it.”

The group says adding fluoride to water isn’t a quick fix for dental hygiene and worry about other health effects.

“We just think we should be doing something far more effective which are the sealant programs and getting more kids to dental health providers and education programs,” said Rick North, a volunteer advisor for Safe Water Spokane.

They encourage limiting sugary foods to fight the issue instead of adding more of the mineral to water. Dr. Bailey argues adding it to water will help people get the full benefits.

“Most of the fluoride benefits we get are from secretions in the saliva and so it needs to be ingested in order for it to be helpful,” Bailey said.

The city council’s study is set to start next week and end in 2023. Council members Cathcart and Bingle voted against starting the study. The council says it will once again ask for public feedback before making any changes to local water.