Brunell: Portland ignores proven benefits of fluoridation

By Don Brunell, Columbian business commentator

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photoDon Brunell recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business.

When it comes to drinking water, Portland is an odd duck. Since 1956, voters have consistently rejected adding minuscule amounts of fluoride to their water supply to prevent tooth decay. They again flocked to the polls in May to kill the latest ballot measure.

America is a fluoride nation. In 1945, Grand Rapids, Mich., became the first city in the world to add fluoride to its water supply. As of 2010, the nation's 30 most populous cities include fluoride in their water supply.

More than 220 million Americans drink fluoridated water every day β€” except for the 900,000 Portlanders who draw their drinking water from the Bull Run River flowing from Mt. Hood.

In most areas, it is simply understood that a small amount of fluoride is good for your teeth. To date, there have been more than 3,700 studies demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of fluoridation.

Oral health is still a significant concern for too many children and adults, especially in areas without fluoridated water. Dental disease is preventable and is a major reason why employees miss work, either because they or their kids require treatment.

Among the most cost-effective tools to protect oral health is community water fluoridation. Studies show that fluoridation reduces tooth decay rates by up to 40 percent and offers health benefits without requiring people to spend extra money or change their daily routine.

The annual average cost to fluoridate is less than $1 per person per year. This is an incredible bargain -- especially given that the lifetime cost to take care of a single cavity is estimated to be more than $2,000. Talk about an ounce of prevention and a pound of cure.

Families, businesses and taxpayers save money when water fluoridation is part of the public health tool kit. Of course, individuals need to do their part, too, by practicing good oral hygiene. But communities must also contribute by providing fluoridated water, a proven low-cost measure to prevent dental disease.

The majority of communities in Washington and across the country have used water fluoridation as a safe, economical and cost-effective measure to improve oral health. Over the past several decades, there has been a slow, yet steady expansion of community water fluoridation in the United States, providing benefits to millions of additional children and adults.

Unfortunately, a few communities -- including Portland -- have resisted community water fluoridation, even though poor oral health leads to higher health care costs that are often passed on to everyone in a community.

The activists who try to persuade communities to stop fluoridating, or not even start, ignore more than 65 years of scientific evidence that clearly proves fluoridation is safe and benefits everyone. In fact, fluoridation is so beneficial that the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention proclaimed water fluoridation one of the top 10 public health measures of the 20th century.

Fluoridation is a sound public health measure supported by nearly every trusted scientific and health organization, including the National Institutes of Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Dental Association and many other respected health and medical experts.

Communities such as San Diego, San Jose and others across the country have thoroughly examined the facts and have recently decided to provide fluoridated water to their residents. Since 1992, the number of Americans with access to fluoridated water has grown by 60 million.

The bottom line: Community water fluoridation keeps people healthy. That is good for business and the economy. It is also good for families and taxpayers -- and it is the common sense thing to do.

Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state's chamber of commerce.