Fluoridation: Elected officials have a critical duty

By the CDHP team

This blog post was written by Karen Williams Seel, a member of the county board of commissioners in Pinellas County, Fla. More than 900,000 people live in the county. Three years ago, the board voted 4-3 to stop fluoridating its water supply but reversed that decision in 2012 after voters defeated two incumbent commissioners who had voted against fluoridation. In both instances, Seel voted in favor of fluoridation.

During my 15 years as a member of the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners, I have learned that voters are wiser than many pollsters and pundits seem to think they are. When voters get confused about an issue, it’s usually because someone has misinformed them — either by error or by design. Community water fluoridation provides a good example of how that can happen.

When the issue of fluoridation arose in Pinellas County, only a small handful of residents raised any concern about it. These individuals cited statements they had read on anti-fluoride websites and online bulletin boards. Many of them seemed unaware that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded that fluoridation safely and effectively reduces tooth decay by 25% over a person’s lifetime. Thankfully, our local newspaper did an excellent job of reporting on fluoridation.

As Americans increasingly seek health information online, elected officials and other policymakers need to recognize that anti-fluoride activists have created a web-based panoply of false fears. For many fluoride critics, these online messages are the source of their concerns. This spring, for instance, a New York resident wrote a letter to his local newspaper, saying he “was surfing the Web and came across information on water fluoridation and the dangers that lie within this practice.”

Public officials have a responsibility to listen to their constituents. We also have a duty to not allow false fear to drive public health decisions.

In Pinellas County, a handful of people sent similar fear-based messages to our board of commissioners. Fortunately, we heard from many local residents who opposed the decision to end fluoridation. These parents were having to pay extra money out of pocket to buy fluoride supplements for their children. Parents told us that a decision like this should be based on health and science — not on politics. A local mother of two children put it simply, “It's a disservice to our children.” Eventually, this common-sense view prevailed, and we resumed water fluoridation in our county.

Public officials have a responsibility to listen to their constituents. We also have a duty to not allow false fear to drive public health decisions. We should direct our constituents to reputable websites like these sites. We shouldn’t let “guess what I read on the internet” be the reason that we abandon a proven, safe practice like water fluoridation.

Guest blog posts do not necessarily represent the views or positions of the Children's Dental Health Project (CDHP). Click here to learn more about CDHP.

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Did you know?

44% }
of U.S. children will have at least one cavity by kindergarten.
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