Shawn Vestal’s column supporting water fluoridation (“Fluoride levels playing field,” Sept. 6) [the headline was changed to “Time to let the wisest voices, not the loudest, guide us on fluoride”] included numerous claims from Mark Wiener, a public relations consultant who led the unsuccessful effort to fluoridate Portland in 2013. He “vividly” remembered it.
Both portray the opposition in Portland and Spokane as “the anti-fluoride left” joining “the anti-fluoride right,” supposedly driven by conspiracy theorists.
I remember the Portland campaign, too. I was a spokesperson for the opposition, and my memories – backed by actual facts – are quite different.
They seem to have forgotten the “massive middle” providing most of the votes in Portland’s decisive defeat (61% to 39%) of the practice. Most Spokane residents, like Portland’s (or any city’s) may lean one way or the other, but are hardly extremists.
Now retired, I’m one of those button-down moderates in the middle. I worked 21 years for the American Cancer Society, the last five as CEO of the Oregon chapter, and seven years for the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility as founder and project director of its safe food program.
I collaborated with professionals in mainstream organizations for my entire career and I can say the physicians, scientists and dentists opposing fluoridation equal any of them in expertise, integrity and courage.
Let’s compare facts with Mr. Vestal’s opinions: Conspiracy theories? Neither the Portland nor Safe Water Spokane campaign (safewaterspokane) even mentioned them. Instead, both focused on excessive costs, ineffectiveness, ethics and peer-reviewed, scientific evidence documenting fluoridation’s harm to health. It’s especially unfair to low-income families, who can’t afford bottled water or expensive filters to avoid its health risks. They have no choice.
High cavity rates in unfluoridated Portland and Spokane? The Oregon Health Authority’s data showed that Portland’s rates were actually lower than the average of fluoridated cities in Oregon. Washington’s data, comparing 20 counties, showed that Spokane’s cavity rates were near the middle (ninth).
The Cochrane Collaboration, the gold standard of evaluating medical effectiveness, couldn’t find any significant evidence of fluoridation’s effectiveness in adults or in reducing cavity disparities between low- and higher-income populations. Even the proponents’ questionable claim of a 25% reduction in cavities is less than one cavity per child.
A pro-fluoridation majority in Spokane? He cited a poll showing a favorable margin (54% to 34%), never mentioning this “push” poll, as exposed by an Inlander article, “came sweetened with arguments in favor of fluoridation.” So much for its trustworthiness.
A “consensus” supporting fluoridation? Worldwide, 172 out of 196 nations have rejected fluoridation outright or won’t even consider it – 95% of the world’s population. The Dutch ministry of health stated, “It was widely perceived that drinking water should not be used as a vehicle for pharmaceuticals,” a conviction shared by numerous other countries. Unfluoridated Portland and Spokane are in the overwhelming majority of cities, along with London, Paris, Rome, Prague, Tokyo and countless others – pretty good company.
I once supported fluoridation because I’d been told it was proven safe for everyone. When I found out it wasn’t, I changed my mind. I can only hope others will do the same.
Rick North is a retired nonprofit executive who resides outside of Portland and volunteers for Safe Water Spokane. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.