Continued debate ends in unanimous City Council vote in favor of fluoridation

The city will persist in adding controlled amounts of fluoride to the water supply for dental health benefits.

When Columbia dentist and doctor Tim Coyle stood to ask the gallery at Monday’s city council meeting whether they enjoyed going to get cavities filled, the response was a resounding “no.”

However, the issue of water fluoridation debated during the meeting was not so one-sided.

After more than an hour of public comment during the meeting, the council voted unanimously in favor of continuing the fluoridation of the city’s water supply, citing pressure from citizens and numerous reports on the health benefits of fluoridation as the foundation of their decision.

Several residents, like Steven Westgate, urged council members to heed the testimonies given by dentists and other health professionals in favor of public water fluoridation, adding controlled amounts of fluoride to the water supply for dental health benefits, and even admonished council members for considering ending the current fluoridation program.

“Do you really want to go there?” Westgate questioned the council. “For you to vote against fluoridation has the effect of making (Board of Health) members less likely to serve in the future. (It) puts the council in the uncomfortable position of ignoring their own experts.”

Similarly, pediatrician Ellen Thomas spoke against against the purported health risks of water fluoridation, including goiters or lowered IQ scores in children, and further argued that continuing to fluoridate the city’s water would help to combat the dental health issues facing children of low-income families who do not receive proper dental care.

“There is a big problem of access to dental care in this community,” Thomas said. “Adding fluoride to the water is cheap; it is effective. It affects everyone, so it is nondiscriminatory.”

In 2011, 63 percent of children enrolled in Medicaid in Missouri did not receive dental care, while 17 percent of the state population was underserved and living in areas of dental-care shortages in 2013, according to a June 2013 report published by the Pew Charitable Trusts Organization.

The gravity of the need for improved dental care was iterated by Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp, who said his decision to vote against the discontinuation of water fluoridation was driven by his commitment to producing the greatest good for his constituents.

“The lack of dental care for folks that I encounter ... is appalling,” Trapp said. “It’s the right thing to do for the vast majority of us to improve our health and improve the lives of the folks.”

However, not all were in favor of the continuation of the fluoridation, such as Columbia resident Daniel Redmond. Redmond testified about his personal stance on the issue in front of the council. He also voiced his questions about the chemicals used to fluoridate the public water supply and possibility that lead might also find its way into the drinking water through fluoridation.

“I’m against the water fluoridation because I don’t want it,” Redmond said. “Can anybody here answer exactly what’s in the product?”

Aside from concerns about the chemical quality involved in water fluoridation, the mass fluoridation of the city’s water supply is inaccurately portrayed in the media, Columbia resident Amy Bremer said during public comment.

“The scientists are against fluoridation; the bureaucrats are against it,” Bremer said.

Despite the opposition, all seven council members voted to continue the city’s fluoridation of the water supply.

Council members cited various reasons as their motivation for upholding the practice. Mayor Bob McDavid spoke to his own experience growing up without water fluoridation compared to Columbia’s current situation.

“I was that little boy… wondering if it was going to be six cavities or four this year,” McDavid said. “But it was so nice to raise a couple of kids in Columbia who never had cavities.”

Regardless of the city’s plans to continue fluoridation, the council will need to address the broader issue of dental care as a public health concern in the near future, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said about her vote.

“We need to as a community look at what we can do beyond fluoride,” Hoppe said. “It’s an issue that we will have to address in the future.”

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