GUEST OPINION: Magical thinking about fluoridation in Sonoma County

  • This artwork by Michael Osbun relates to unsafe drinking water.

"For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple—and wrong." -- H.L. Mencken

In an Aug. 7 Press Democrat story about Sonoma County's new public health officer, Dr. Lynn Silver-Chalfin, we read that in her capacity as assistant health commissioner for New York City, she helped the city ban trans fats. This resulted in an 83 percent reduction in trans fat in restaurant food. Another innovation required fast food calorie labeling. Good for Silver-Chalfin.

In contrast to those forward-moving laws, however, Silver-Chalfin seems determined to bring fluoridation to Sonoma County, an idea that has fallen into such disrepute that most European cities which had it have given it up. She leads the public health department in waving that tired old banner that fluoride in the water will "decrease the rate of tooth decay, which is very high in our children, particularly low-income children."

This is especially strange from a person who has worked for human rights since she was young. Internationally, access to clean water is now considered a human right. Clean water is what the American Dental Association and the CDC mean when they tell parents not to use fluoridated water for mixing dry formula, and what doctors advise diabetics to drink. The county's fluoridation proposal is basically Medication by Faucet, which takes away peoples right to clean water.

It used to be that only fringe groups opposed fluoridation. Finally, the tide is turning. Hundreds of studies show the downside. For instance, as a teacher I was shocked to read the Harvard analysis showing that fluoridated water lowers IQ. Recently, statistical analysis showed that decades of low school success and higher crime resulted from lead in gasoline. Can't we learn from that mistake and not add fluoride?

Often in life the right solution to a problem is more complicated, more time-consuming and initially more expensive than the wrong solution. Some of the magical quick fixes we tried in the past: DDT, MBTE, BPA. All ended up causing far more harm than good and cost a lot more to clean up.

Everyone agrees that the decay rate in Sonoma County children is too high. But the real cause is too much junk food and not enough real food. The real question should be, &‘How can families find good food for the same price as processed empty calories?'

The Board of Supervisors is about to spend three quarters of a million dollars (critics say it will cost a lot more) to add fluoride to our water supply when it would be far wiser to spend those tax dollars on nutrition education for families. Parents will listen because they know that &‘Knowledge is power.'

Our county has the laudable goal that our children will be the healthiest in California by 2020. Fluoridation won't get us there. But good nutrition can. Silver-Chalfin has a great track record of getting public support for dietary improvements. We need that here.

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