Teeth and taxes
True story, Bites has never had a cavity. Hey, this column isn’t called Bites for nothing.
This good fortune may be partly due to the fact that Bites grew up back east, where for several decades kids have been getting lots and lots of government-issue fluoride in the water.
It has always seemed to Bites like a pretty benign and worthwhile program, though fluoride has been subject of various conspiracy theories over the years. (“You ever seen a commie drink a glass of water?” Dr. Strangelove, anyone?)
There are legitimate worries as well. Too much of the stuff is toxic. It also causes fluorosis, weird little white spots on the teeth. Fluoride has even been linked to weakened bones and, in Chinese studies, to lower IQ.
And a surprisingly large number of people believe they just shouldn’t be made to ingest any chemicals without their consent. Crazy, huh?
Some of those people, belonging to a group called Fluoride Free Sacramento, are bringing Paul Connett, author of The Case Against Fluoride, to give talks about the dangers of fluoridation at the Arcade Library and the Arden Whole Foods store on February 23 and 24. (Go to www.fluoridefreesacramento.org for times and maps.)
The anti-fluoride folks are definitely swimming against the flow. “Fluoridation is the most cost-effective way to reach a large number of children and prevent dental disease,” said Erin Blount, with First 5 Sacramento, the county commission that disburses tobacco tax money to fund children’s health and education programs. “It’s the greatest public health program of the 20th century,” Blount added.
Which sounds pretty good, until you remember that the 20th century was over a while ago, and that the city of Sacramento didn’t even start fluoridating its water until 2000.
Bites can barely remember the transition—perhaps because of the memory-erasing mind-control properties of the chemical.
Seems state law changed in 1995 to require any local government with more than 10,000 water hookups to fluoridate. West Sacramento didn’t get fluoridated until 2008. Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova are scheduled to begin in 2012.
But the state law also allows cities to suspend the program if they can’t afford it.
The chemicals aren’t cheap, and they tend to corrode city equipment. In fact, the entire program has been far more expensive than originally projected, according to a report by Utilities Department Director Marty Hanneman last year. In the report, he suggests the Sacramento City Council consider suspending the program, to save about $1 million a year.
The report also notes that just 0.009 percent of the fluoride in the system actually reaches the target population—children under 5 years old. The rest winds up in the bodies of older people who don’t really need it, or being sprayed on lawns, flushed down toilets or used in industrial processes.
“That would be comparable to taking 1 gallon of milk, using six-and-one-half drops of it and pouring the rest of the gallon in the sink,” Hanneman’s report concluded.
The folks at Fluoride Free Sacramento have seized on this to urge suspending the program. “Taxpayers are paying to poison themselves, at least, that’s how some of us feel,” said activist Kim Glazzard.
At the same time, First 5 Sacramento has offered the city of Sacramento a $75,000 grant to study how to make the fluoridation program more efficient and, they hope, keep the program in place.
Sacramento’s Interim City Manager Gus Vina told Bites that he expects the issue to come before the council again in the next few months. “Now we’re back to the science question, instead of just the budget question—you know, should we be fluoridating our water?” Vina explained.
“I’m going to have to brush my teeth for that meeting,” he added.