More than 60 years after Healdsburg voters approved adding fluoride to the city’s water to fight tooth decay, they are being asked in Tuesday’s election to once again either approve or reject the practice, foreshadowing a bigger battle that could come at the county level over fluoridation.
Generations of Healdsburg residents have been drinking fluoridated water since 1952, when the city became one of the first in the state to add it, part of a practice that now includes a majority of California communities and about 75 percent of the public water systems in the United States.
Although Healdsburg is the only city in Sonoma County that adds fluoride to its water, the county Department of Health Services is also evaluating potential fluoridation of the county Water Agency’s supply. The agency serves more than 600,000 customers in the North Bay, including Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma, Windsor, Sonoma, Valley of the Moon and parts of Marin.
Dental and health organizations support fluoridation as a time-proven, cost-effective way to cut down on cavities, to safely strengthen teeth and also benefit families who don’t see a dentist regularly.
“The oral health of a generation of kids is at stake,” Healdsburg Mayor Jim Wood said about Tuesday’s vote. Wood is a dentist and supports fluoridation.
A passionate group of fluoride opponents earlier this year gathered more than enough signatures to place the referendum on Tuesday’s ballot. They have canvassed every neighborhood in Healdsburg spreading a message that fluoride is a dangerous toxin, a contention that health experts say is unfounded with the doses delivered in U.S. drinking water.
“We are assaulted by so many environmental toxins in our air and different pollutions. To put a toxic substance in our water is not reasonable,” said Julie Kennedy, an employee at a Healdsburg lumber and building materials company who has been knocking on doors with a core group of about a half-dozen people trying to convince voters to end fluoridation.
Dentists and other health professionals are pushing back, saying fluoridation opponents are misguided and ignore overwhelming scientific data that fluoride added in minuscule amounts to the water — such as less than one part per million in Healdsburg — is essentially safe.
The question posed by Healdsburg’s Measure P on Tuesday’s ballot is a simple one: “Shall the City of Healdsburg continue to fluoridate its water?”
But voters have had to try to sort through competing claims made by each side, both citing scientific studies to bolster their arguments.
Is fluoride added to water a form of mass medication that can lower IQ, decrease thyroid production and cause unsightly teeth discoloration, as fluoridation opponents argue in their ballot initiative? Or are anti-fluoridationists ignoring sound, validated science and endorsements by a long list of health organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Surgeon General, World Health Organization and National Cancer Institute?
Those who answer “yes” to fluoride in Healdsburg and vote to continue to the ongoing practice are backed by the California Dental Association. The group last month contributed $45,000 in cash to the “Save Our Smiles” campaign and has helped pay for several voter mailers supporting continued fluoridation.
With non-cash contributions — basically staff time contributed by the state Dental Association — the “Yes” campaign reported more than $56,000 in contributions as of Sept. 30.