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It’s been 50 years since Klamath Falls has considered fluoridating water

By LEE BEACH H&N Staff Writer 2/22/07

   Most Oregonians, including Klamath Falls residents, are among one-third of the nation’s population who do not drink fluoridated water from their taps.
   Bills to require fluoridation of water systems in cities of 10,000 or more have stalled in the past three legislative sessions. This session, a new fluoridation bill has languished in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee since Jan. 12 and no hearings are scheduled.
   But the bill has reignited statewide debate.
   It’s been more than 50 years since Klamath Falls residents considered fluoridating their water. The issue was put before city voters, and residents narrowly turned it down.
   If the same vote happened today, the results would probably be similar. Those responding so far to an online Herald and News survey oppose fluoride in city water supplies 53 percent to 44 percent. The survey will be open through Monday.
   Those opposing fluoridation cite health concerns. Those who favor it believe it helps build strong teeth, especially in youth. Others say children and adults can get needed fluoride by use of toothpaste and topical sealants.
   “There are other ways to get fluoride,” wrote one respondent. “We don’t need to spend money to water our lawns, flush our toilets, shower, etc. with fluoridated water.”
   In October 1956, local dentists supporting fluoridation of Klamath Falls water cited an Oregon study that said 75 percent of children were in need of immediate dental work. And area dentists still support fluoridation, saying a shortage of dentists in the county as well lack of preventive care puts residents at risk for oral disease.
   “Finances and lack of dental insurance prevent children from getting early dental care,” said Dr. Mark Davis, president of the Klamath County Dental Association. “The nice thing about fluoride (in community water systems), is everybody gets it. The Oregon Dental Association has been trying to promote all Oregon community water systems be fluoridated.”
   About 20 percent of Oregon’s community water systems in 11 cities or towns are fluoridated, according to a state Department of Human Services Public Health Division report on oral disease. Of those, nine are in the Willamette Valley.
   The report calls oral disease a “serious, often overlooked public health problem that affects the majority of Oregonians during their lifetime.”
   Opponents of fluoridating water point to possible and proven effects of excessive amounts of the substance. The key word in adding fluoride, by whichever delivery system, is “optimal,” officials say.
   Dr. Michael Shirtcliff, a dentist and chairman of the subcommittee of professionals on the Klamath early dental care project administered through the state Women, Infants and Children program, agreed there are risks from excessive fluoride intake.
   “Mottling — white and brown spots (fluorosis) — can occur, and at massive amounts it can be a poison,” he said.
   But, he added, these are not the amounts people get with the use of fluoride toothpastes, fluoride varnish or in community water systems, if it is properly monitored.
   Fluoride only one option
   The state report named several options for improving dental health in Oregon, only one of which was delivery of fluoride by dental sealants, rinses, tablets or fluoridating community water systems. Prevention programs were high on the list.
   A state plan was presented at the first-ever statewide oral health forum last May, and a statewide oral health coalition has been convened with representation from public and private organizations interested in reducing the burden of oral disease in Oregon.
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