Fluoride Action Network

Water utilities aren’t responsible for dental care

Source: The News Tribune | June 2nd, 2005 | By Jeff Johnson

On behalf of the water providers mentioned in your May 13 editorial, we offer not just an alternative point of view, but perhaps insight and facts for your readers.

First, our mission is to provide potable drinking water to more than 200,000 people in Pierce County.

The water we provide does not cause dental decay. Since fluoride is primarily beneficial to children under the age of 14, the majority of our customers would not necessarily benefit.

Second, while you dismiss our opposition to the health department’s alternatives as “truly about money,” there’s more to it than money.

Yes, the significant cost to build and operate the fluoride facilities can be spread across our customer bases, resulting in 5 percent to 25 percent rate increases to our customers. This will adversely affect many senior citizens, others on fixed incomes and the economically disadvantaged with little or no corresponding benefit to them.

Third, the initial information used by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to demonstrate the dental crisis showed a decay rate of 34 percent in the unfluoridated Bethel School District, while the fluoridated Tacoma School District decay rate was 59 percent. Does this demonstrate the large benefit claimed for fluoridation?

A University of Washington study of child dental decay showed no statistical significant difference between children receiving fluoridated and unfluoridated water.

Before utilities invest more than $3.5 million on fluoridation facilities and $900,000 on annual operational costs, the public deserves better data showing a proportionate benefit for their investment.

Fourth, why is it that of the 385 dentists in Pierce County, fewer than half will even accept a single Medicaid patient?

Fifth, and most fundamentally, utilities believe, because water does not cause dental decay, unless the customers request fluoridation, as Tacoma’s customers did by vote, utilities should not be in the dental-care business.

Finally, we support the Pierce County Council and its resolution that properly identifies the dental crisis as a general health issue that should be addressed by and with general government funding.

We regret your editorial position and can only hope that your readers can discern there’s a lot more to this issue than what the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health would have you believe.


Jeff Johnson is the manager of the Spanaway Water Company and president of the Water Cooperative of Pierce County.