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Give children back their smiles, health

TWO VIEWS • Portland's fluoridation plan stirs up big concerns


by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The Portland City Council will vote Sept. 12 on a fluoridation plan for the Bull Run Reservoir, which supplies almost one-quarter of the state with drinking water. Portland is one of the largest cities in the country that doesn't use fluoride to fight tooth decay. Opponents say fluoride endangers childrens' health and shouldn't be in drinking water.As Portland considers the benefits of water fluoridation, let’s stay focused on the reason behind this conversation: the dental health crisis.

It’s just as serious, and far more common, than many other health issues that receive more attention.

One in three children in our state suffers from untreated tooth decay, one in five from rampant decay (seven or more cavities). We find that unacceptable, especially since tooth decay is 100 percent preventable. We urge our City Council to adopt the safe, effective, and affordable answer: fluoridated water.

As pediatricians, we care for the whole child. We see the impacts of poor dental health: pain, infections that spread to other parts of the body, poor nutrition, school absenteeism, delayed speech and, perhaps most poignantly, the loss of a happy smile.

Portlanders rightfully think of our city as being thoughtful, trendsetting and progressive. We care for the quality of people’s lives and our environment.

How shocking, then, to realize that Oregon ranks near the bottom of all states in children’s dental health. Children here have twice as much dental decay as their peers in Washington state, which has dramatically better water fluoridation coverage than Oregon.

The dental health crisis affects all Oregon families, but low-income children and children of color are the hardest hit. For example, Native American children have twice the rate of tooth decay compared to white children.

As doctors, we see this far too often. One of our young patients covered her mouth every time she laughed. She wouldn’t show her teeth because she only had remnants of them, decayed into grey stumps that blighted her otherwise radiant grin. She was ashamed to show them to the world.

Poor dental health is caused by several factors, many of which are difficult for children and their families to control. It would be much simpler and more effective for everyone to receive fluoride as a natural part of drinking tap water. After all, the Portland Water Bureau already adds chlorine, ammonia and sodium hydroxide to our Bull Run water for health purposes.

Across the United States, 70 percent of Americans rely on the basic protection of fluoridated water. In Portland, we’re missing out, and our children and families are paying the price.

Beyond childhood, poor dental health affects people’s ability to get a job, can create life-long health problems and is very expensive to treat. It’s also way too common. In fact, one in four adults older than 65 has lost all of their teeth. Water fluoridation decreases decay in adults by at least 25 percent.

The safety and effectiveness of water fluoridation has been established over decades of research and is backed by leading national organizations as well as OHSU here at home. As opponents make their case, too often fueled by flawed science and scare tactics, we haven’t heard them offer a credible alternative solution.

The Oregon Pediatric Society is a member of the Everyone Deserves Healthy Teeth Coalition, and we strongly support water fluoridation in Portland because it is safe, effective, affordable, and it benefits everyone.

Now that’s something we can all smile about.


Dr. Arthur C. Jaffe is president of the Oregon Pediatric Society. Dr. Ben Hoffman is advocacy co-chairman of the society.