Friday, May 10, 2013

Final thoughts on fluoride

My point of view on adding fluoride to Portland water began during the mayoral campaign when I asked candidate Charlie Hales about it and was satisfied with his answer. His was the same as Jeff Smith’s: adding fluoride to water is a no-brainer based on the science and numbers, but putting it to a public vote – Jeff was particularly adamant about  this - is the right thing to do.

Later a friend and colleague asked me to get involved with the Clean Water Portland people, and I said I’d be happy to talk but that I didn’t agree with them.

I had a bristly phone call with Rick North, a volunteer on the leadership team of Clean Water Portland and a 30-year veteran of grass-roots political campaigns. 

Personally, my wish is for the best outcome for my community,” I wrote to him afterwards. “Neither side has convinced me, but so far ‘Flouride-Good; is in the lead. I certainly don't want another nasty political war - I'd like a meaningful dialogue leading to the best decision. My wish would be for you to make that happen, but it would take some cooperation and shared intent from your "opponent" as well.”

Rick told me not to hold my breath.

That was January. I’ve spent the last few months learning as much as I can about the issue from both sides, having conversations with friends, both on- and off-line, and finally hosting a conversation in my studio with two of the leaders from both sides, including Rick. That was a couple of nights ago. We just posted it.

“Well? What’s the answer?” my friends have asked, including some of the attendees of the conversation, who were as cloudy before our couple of hours together as they were before.

Here’s where I’ve come out:

Fluoride is good for teeth. It remineralizes teeth and prevents decay. The CDC called dental fluoridation one of the great health achievements of the 20th century.

Dental health is a foundation of overall health. Dental problems can lead to greater and greater health problems, even death. Everyone deserves good dental health.

Fluoride is one piece of dental health. Others are access to dental care, healthy food, an effective dental hygiene program and preventive measures such as dental sealants.

For lower income people in our community, particularly children, some people believe that fluoridated water might be the most effective way to provide some access to fluoride.

If we were to add fluoride to the water, since very little is actually consumed, most of it would be wasted and deposited elsewhere, as much as 99% of it.

Some people are sensitive to fluoride and would be forced to drink it or buy bottled water. There are legitimate concerns about the safety of the fluorosilicic acid itself.

Globally the rates of cavities and dental decay are going down, and those trends are the same in countries that fluoridate their water and ones that don’t.

Most of Europe has chosen not to fluoridate its water, due to safety, ethical, and effectiveness concerns.

Portland has been resisting fluoride for years and years. We are the last big holdout in the US. We’re either idiots - crackpots who won’t listen to science - or people who believe that our ethos demands that we ask deeper questions and create our own solutions and processes to accomplish our shared goals.

Portland drives me crazy in a lot of ways, but I love that about it. Oregon too. We do things our own way, always thinking there’s a better way to do something: the Bottle Bill, Beach Bill, tearing down highways, light rail, etc. I believe we're resisting fluoride because we know there has to be a better way of creating shared dental health than turning our wonderful water into a drug delivery system.

I want to get fluoride to kids who need it. I want all of Portland to have good dental health. How do we do it safely, effectively, efficiently, in a way that is fair to all the people of Portland and that honors the treasured resource of our wonderful water?

That is the work we have to come together and do ahead.

First, I am going to vote no on Measure 26-151.



Jack said...

agreed, on all counts. well said, jelly.

for me, after working through many of these angles, it came down to the proper role of government in our lives.

municipal water supplies? after traveling the world and experiencing very few remaining places where safe water is available - let alone out of taps, i believe a local government's proper role is to provide, clean, safe, pure water. that in and of itself entails the use of some pretty serious chemicals. anything additional, "for my own good", raises concerns. that is a slippery (when wet) slope.

i vote NO.

thanks for your leadership on this complex issue.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jelly. That's a good write up.

Ballots are due Tuesday, May 21st by 8 pm.


Brian Padian said...

well put Jelly. I've been mystified on how to vote - seemingly equal margins of reason and hysteria on both sides of the equation - and this will go a long way to aiding my final decision.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Nice to read a well-considered change of mind. I agree with your No vote.

As one of those negatively-effected- by-fluoride citizens who grew up in a family of dentists, I believe the only effective way to administer fluoride is topical. A better use of money to reach low-income children is to spend it on topical fluoride treatments delivered in schools or at community sites to protect teeth as well as everyone's health.

FQM said...

Hi Jelly. I'm new to your blog but wanted to thank you for your thoughtful approach to this topic. Waiting, listening, and learning about BOTH sides is exactly how I came to a NO vote too. I got involved with Clean Water Portland because of my dedication to children's future health, which includes teeth, but also the whole body. There is no fluoride shortage in the world, but clean water is shrinking away.

My hope is once the election is done we can refocus on helping kids in all aspects of care. Thanks again!

FQM said...

Hi Jelly. I'm new to your blog but wanted to thank you for your thoughtful approach to this topic. Waiting, listening, and learning about BOTH sides is exactly how I came to a NO vote too. I got involved with Clean Water Portland because of my dedication to children's future health, which includes teeth, but also the whole body. There is no fluoride shortage in the world, but clean water is shrinking away.

My hope is once the election is done we can refocus on helping kids in all aspects of care. Thanks again!

phoebe said...

I would love to hear what you plan to do secondly! I'm seeing a lot of complaints from the "no" side of this debate/issue about the energy and resources put into this. I'm personally seeking some great, positive input about what folks, especially those with immense cultural capital like yourself, plan to do next to help these kids. I'm serious, too, not being a dick. I just really want to see some positive and constructive ideas about next steps! I would love to see something like a list of what folks are doing, what nonprofits they are helping, and what GOOD energy is coming from our community to the kids this public health initiative was aimed at in the first place.

So, you've declared your number one...

FluorideNews said...

Actually, the 3 million people who make up Long island, New York have rejected and stopped fluoridation every time it rears its ugly head. Decay rates in Nassau County (Long Island) are lower than most of the rest of New York and most of the other fluoridated NYS
counties. About 73% of New York State is fluoridated - but not Long Island

Chris Allen said...

Thanks a lot for taking the time to look into this issue with a caring heart and open mind.

Rae N. said...

In Austin, the St. David's Foundation, a private charity, has essentially taken over the city's job in addressing the dental needs of low income children since the city refuses to spend a penny on anything exceptwater fluoridation. St. David's does this through a very effective program of mobile dental vans which visit Title 1 elementary schools regularly. (this model has been successful in other places too). Check it out.

Unknown said...

I am voting Yes on Measure 26-151. I have found zero studies that show any harmful or negative effects from fluoridated water. All studies have only proven the positive effects, they have proven that fluoride works as described.

People who really care about clean drinking water are already drinking purified / distilled / ionized water.

It is a myth that Portland has "Pure, clean water." Portland water has many additives including chlorine, sodium hydroxide, and ammonia.

Fluoride is not a "toxic chemical." Fluoride is a mineral, the same as calcium and magnesium. No one calls calcium or magnesium 'toxic chemicals,' they are all minerals.

People who want pure water can simply purchase bottled water in reusable 6 gallon containers. For example, you can go to Home Depot and pay $12 for a 6 gallon reusable jug of Sierra Springs water. Sierra Springs will deliver the jugs to your home if you don't have a car.

Google "Portland water delivery" to find many companies who will deliver pure water to your home. This will help you avoid the chlorine, sodium hydroxide, and ammonia already in tap water.

The healthiest drinking water is Spring Water fresh from a natural spring. There are many natural springs around Portland, the locations are listed at

I have spoken with many of my friends in Portland who have children under 10 years of age. They all take good care of their children's teeth, but the kids are still getting many cavities. My friends are spending thousands of dollars every year to get the cavities filled.

I grew up in Michigan drinking fluoridated water. I have very strong teeth with only one cavity. All the dentists can tell that I grew up on fluoridated water. The first thing the dentists tell me is "You have strong teeth, I can tell you did not grow up in Portland."

Fluoride works!

I'm principal of a said...

Thanks Rae - will check that out

Philip Wu said...

As one of the participants in the forum, I appreciate the thoughtful and considerate dialogue. Of course, I disagree with a decision to "vote no!" Clean Water Portland has engineered a campaign based on seemingly negative sound bites, many of which actually come from studies and reviews that ultimately support water fluoridation. Taken out of context, the anti-fluoride sound bites create doubt. Unfortunately, most people these days don't have the time to go much deeper than the sound bite and fully understand the context and principles of public health. The burden of proof is tremendous!

Reed Hall said...

Good comments all around Jelly but I will be voting YES for fluoride.

There are certainly many ways to deal with our dental health epidemic and free mobile vans (MTI and Tooth Taxi) and clinics (Creston School and Russell St) are available and working hard to help FIX problems. The real issue with this model is that we are still just fixing problems that have already occurred. This model is simply unacceptable. We deserve better. The dental model predicates itself on prevention first. This is what separates dentistry from the "treatment after disease presents" model of medicine. WE CAN PREVENT DENTAL DISEASE! But we are helpless without the right tools, one being fluoride.

Please look beyond the emotions. Please look at the facts.

The debate in Portland over fluoride is a lot like the Flat Earth Society debating with Magellan over the earth being round. Fiction versus fact. Unless you've seen that the the earth is round, it looks pretty flat. Magellan would vote YES for fluoride because he knows the facts.

Rick North said...

First, thank you to Jelly for the opportunity to represent Clean Water Portland at his studio and his informed decision to vote No on fluoridation. We very much appreciate it.

Second, a quick story. For most of my life, I supported fluoridation, not giving it much thought. Then, about five years ago, a friend asked me to review the science. I’m neither a doctor nor scientist, but most of my 35-year career has been in non-profit health and environmental management. I was the former executive vice president of the Oregon American Cancer Society and project director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Campaign for Safe Food.

When I started investigating the science – from both sides – I was amazed and greatly concerned. It was obvious fluoridation’s health risks far outweighed any dubious dental health benefits. It was very easy to reverse my position and oppose the practice. Moreover, more recent science keeps mounting on the highly significant health and environmental harm it causes.

Finally, fluoridation proponents often claim that we’re taking information out of context. I take both my individual and organizational credibility very seriously. If anyone has any question or complaint about anything we’ve said (or what others have said, especially the Oregonian and Willamette Week), please feel free to contact me directly at 503-968-1520 or and I’ll respond to you promptly. I’d welcome the opportunity.

First do no harm. Please vote No on fluoridation, Measure 26-151.

Alma said...

This is cool!