WOODLAND — Yolo County supervisors on Tuesday weighed in on the controversial topic of whether Davis should begin fluoridating its community water supply.
The board voted 4-1 in favor of a resolution presented by Supervisor Don Saylor of Davis calling on both Davis and Woodland to fluoridate their drinking water as plans for the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency surface water project get underway.
And while the cities themselves will have the final say on fluoridation, Saylor said the county has a unique role when it comes to promoting public health within its borders.
“It’s appropriate for us to take a stand, to weigh in, on this issue,” Saylor told his colleagues.
Supervisors Jim Provenza of Davis, Matt Rexroad of Woodland and Mike McGowan of West Sacramento voted in favor of the resolution while Duane Chamberlain of the rural 5th District voted against it, saying, “I don’t think we should be forcing this on everyone.”
Whether the Davis water supply ultimately will be fluoridated is up to the City Council, which will receive a recommendation on the matter from its Water Advisory Committee on June 27 and is expected to decide on July 9.
In the meantime, the committee is holding a series of discussions on fluoridation, with the next one scheduled for May 23.
Speaking in favor of fluoridation Tuesday was Dr. Michael Wilkes, a UC Davis professor of medicine and chairman of the Yolo County Health Council, who called the whole debate over fluoridation “silly.”
“We could debate needle exchanges and there are very different opinions on that,” he said. “It is something reasonable people could have different opinions on. This is a no-brainer. The data is so clear and so convincing … in terms of (fluoride’s) effectiveness in preventing tooth decay and its safety.”
Wilkes said he sees many low-income adolescents in his practice and is “bowled over” by the number of them with large numbers of dental cavities.
As for the issue that has been raised that infants fed dry formula mixed with fluoridated water would be at risk for fluorosis — a consequence of too much fluoride — Wilkes disagreed with that as well.
“The benefits are greater for infants than for adults,” he said, explaining that baby teeth are still forming and erupting and are more susceptible to the benefits of fluoride than already-formed adult teeth.
Davis resident Alan Pryor disagreed, however, noting that both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Dental Association have warned against feeding babies dry formula mixed with fluoridated water because of the risk of fluorosis.
He also noted that many other countries, specifically Japan and some European nations, have chosen not to fluoridate community water supplies and they have no more tooth decay than the United States. Additionally, Pryor said, there are cities like San Francisco that do fluoridate but also have higher rates of dental disease than Davis.
But retired pediatrician Rick Baker, who serves on the First 5 Yolo Commission, said community fluoridation “will improve the dental health of all of our children, and particularly those who are underserved.”
“This is a social justice issue,” he said, explaining that many residents of the county have no dental insurance and are not receiving topical fluoride treatments at regular dental visits.
“Dental decay is the most common chronic problem in children,” he added. “We can prescribe fluoride, but there is a cost involved. … This community water fluoridation allows us to do that in a proactive way. For every dollar invested in water fluoridation, there are 38 dollars saved in dental treatments. This is the time to implement a low-cost and safe, very safe, public health measure.”
According to the resolution approved Tuesday, the rate of untreated dental decay in Yolo County children ranges from 22 to 35 percent. But West Sacramento, which began fluoridating its water supply in 2009, has seen dental disease decline among low-income preschoolers and kindergartners by 10 percent in the past three years, the resolution states.
Whether that is a result of fluoridation or efforts at improving access to dental care for low-income families is unclear.
But McGowan, who expressed pride in West Sacramento having already fluoridated its water, said, “regardless of the controversies, the public health benefits far, far, far outweigh the potential concerns.”
Chamberlain, meanwhile, questioned why, if only a tiny portion of the whole water supply is actually consumed by people, “you would want to fluoridate all this water.”
“Just fluoridate what you drink,” he said. “I’m going to vote ‘no’ because I don’t think we should be forcing this on everybody.”
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy