Dentists and public-health advocates are speaking out against the city of Santa Maria’s decision to stop adding fluoride to local tap water, calling the supplement a vital step for good oral health.

After hearing pleas at the start of the meeting Tuesday night, the City Council asked staff to include the possible restoration of fluoride as part of budget deliberations set for June 18.

Those asking for fluoride in the water included Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, a Republican representing San Luis Obispo and most of northern Santa Barbara County.

“Recognized as one of 10 great public-health achievements of the 20th century by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, water fluoridation is a safe and cost effective way to improve oral health across all populations,” Cunningham wrote.

After much debate more than a decade ago from those wanting fluoride in the water and those opposed to what they consider poison, the City Council approved adding the chemical in 2005.

“I believe this is one of the most easy and inexpensive ways to prevent cavities in children and in adults,” said Dr. Hendrick Gonzalez, a Santa Maria dentist.

“Since we put fluoride in our water in Santa Maria, the reduction of cavities and emergencies in the dental field has been tremendous,” he said. “I just want that to be back just to help our community in their dental prevention.”

A longtime local dentist, Dr. Glenn Prezkop, recalled the “very democratic exercise” from 2002 to 2004 about whether to add fluoride to the Santa Maria tap water, culminating in a ballot measure from opponents.

Foes of fluoride lost the battle when voters defeated the measure in 2004.

“We’re here to ask you to turn that back on,” he said. “It got turned off last October without hardly any notice.”

Santa Maria received a $400,000 grant to help pay for equipment installation and supplies, he added.

The end of fluoridation occurred as a cost-savings measure amid tight financial times. The annual price tag amounted to $55,000, according to Utilities Director Shad Springer

“When a community stops fluoridating their water, local residents spend more money on decay-related dental problems,” said Meredith Nasholds, Oral Health Program coordinator for the Santa Barbara County Health Department. “Every one dollar invested in fluoridation saves an average of $20 in unnecessary dental treatment costs.”

Despite the push urging Santa Maria to resume adding fluoride, it’s one of a few Central Coast communities using it.

Santa Maria and Vandenberg Air Force Base have been the only water suppliers in Santa Barbara County to add fluoride.

In San Luis Obispo County, the city of San Luis Obispo is the lone entity adding fluoride.

In comparison, some 18 water providers add fluoride in Ventura County, according to the California Water Boards website.

MaryEllen Rehse, a social worker with the Santa Barbara County Office of Education, works with pre-school children, and recalled the positive impacts from fluoride, such as fewer cavities and emergency situations.

“Santa Maria used to be known as the worst for children’s dental disease, but then something changed, and it become the best,” Rehse said.

She recalled one call about a boy who refused to eat and only licked cream cheese off a bagel.

“Can you imagine being so hungry but you don’t get to eat the snack in your classroom because your teeth hurt so much to bite into it?” Rehse asked. “It broke my heart. All he could do is lick off the cream cheese.

“I still get calls from Goleta, Santa Barbara and Lompoc, but I don’t remember when the last time was I got a call from Santa Maria. Something changed here, and it didn’t happen anywhere else,” Rehse said.

*Original article online at

– See response here