Portland faces a dental health crisis that impacts our city’s children – and disproportionally impacts communities of color. Just compare Portland – which doesn’t fluoridate the water – and Seattle – which does. In the Portland Metro area, 21% of children suffer from untreated dental decay – a 40% increase over the Seattle area. The CDC calls fluoridation one of the greatest public health achievements of the last century.
Opponents have questioned whether or not we really face a dental crisis. Some have suggested children can access free dental care at school or community clinics. The reality is quite different. Such care is scare and hard to access. In the social service agencies and churches that I’ve worked in for the past 26 years, I’ve seen plenty of people suffer from lack of adequate dental care. Fluoride won’t solve every problem – we do need a comprehensive solution to all our health care needs – but fluoridation will make a profound difference that is affordable now.
We also hear a lot about how fluoride is a chemical – a risk we just cannot afford – but fluoride is not, as one person wrote me, a by-product of nuclear waste. We already put chemicals in our water to destroy harmful bacteria. This is no different. Opponents have told me that fluoride will cause neurological damage, kill cats and dogs, and destroy plants. But every other American city that fluoridates is still standing. One of the primary financial backers of the anti-fluoride campaign is a doctor who has said HIV does not cause AIDS and tells parents not to vaccinate their children. Every major medical and dental group in the United States and Oregon has endorsed fluoridation because they know it is safe and beneficial.
Another funder of the anti-fluoride campaign is an out-of-state Tea Party group. The Tea Party believes strongly in personal choice (except regarding women's health care). We ought to be most concerned with the common good. That should be true on everything from gun control to fluoride. When you make a choice that leaves children in jeopardy what kind of choice is that? What are we saying to our city’s kids?
Portlanders should trust the medical community – along with equity groups – that have advanced fluoridation as a common sense public health measure that will help children and the elderly. Or we can give into fear. I think the world of Portland. We are a good and decent people, and good people can come to different conclusions on difficult issues.
So I hope you vote YES on 26-151, but however you vote I hope you consider the facts and don’t give into the fear, false science and push polls out there.
Rev. Chuck Currie