The question of whether to add fluoride to Bellingham’s water supply in an effort to prevent cavities may go before the city’s voters this fall.
A new group called Bellingham Families for Fluoride has filed documents with the city to begin collecting signatures to put the question on November’s ballot, said David Hemion, assistant executive director of the Washington State Dental Association.
Hemion is also campaign manager and treasurer for the group, whose co-chairs are Bellingham dentist Curt Smith and Bellingham pediatrician Ken Gass.
A recent survey of Bellingham School District third-graders found that 22 percent had cavities in seven or more teeth. That’s a “red lights flashing and sirens going off” example of the need for fluoridated water here, said dentist Robert Knudson, another group member. Surveys find about 15 percent of kids statewide have cavities in more than seven teeth.
Among all the causes of tooth decay, “what always rose to the top was, there’s no fluoride in the water here,” Knudson said. “It’s one of the root causes, and it’s one that can be addressed.”
In the county, only Lynden and Lummi Indian Reservation water systems include fluoride. About half of the state’s water is fluoridated, two-thirds nationally, Hemion said.
“Bellingham is one of the larger cities in Washington that has not had fluoridated water,” Hemion said.
The Washington State Dental Association, which recently conducted a telephone survey in Bellingham and other Washington communities to gauge interest in fluoridation, will financially support the Bellingham group.
Gass said two-thirds of those surveyed in Bellingham supported fluoridation.
“All the studies that have been done now, going on 60 years … indicate it is effective in reducing cavities by as much as 40 percent,” Hemion said.
Gass said he hopes the petitions will hit the streets soon. The group will need to collect about 3,700 signatures of Bellingham voters by July 1 to get the measure on the November ballot.
Water fluoridation has been a contentious issue in Bellingham. In 1991, the City Council removed proposed budget funding to fluoridate the city’s water supply. The following year, after months of community debate, the council refused to put the fluoridation measure to a citywide vote.
Opponents of water fluoridation worry about its health effects. Mark Steinberg, a naturopathic physician, was one of the opponents of fluoridation then and remains so now.
Scientific studies can be found on either side of the safety debate, he said. But putting fluoride in the water for everyone, including people who don’t want it, is a bad idea, he said.
“I don’t want to be medicated with fluoride, nor do a lot of my patients,” Steinberg said. “If I drink twice the amount of (water) as someone else, I’m getting twice the amount of fluoride.”
Don Montfort of Birch Bay knows the debate well. He was the director of the Lummi Nation water system when officials there decided to fluoridate the water. He, too, has qualms about “putting drugs in the water supply.”
But, he said as he sat in a dentist’s office recently, watching his 7-year-old grandson get two fillings, “I think you have to do it.”
Reach Mary Lane Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2285.