Just this past June, the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to fluoridate the city’s water supply — a victory due, in part, to the blood, sweat and tears of public health advocates, who never stopped rallying support for this proven prevention technique. In a Tuesday afternoon session on “Fluoridation in California: Is San Diego Fluoridated?” key figures responsible for San Diego’s new fluoridated future told of their journey, the obstacles they faced and the ways they overcame. And like the interwoven wires of my junior high braces, their victory relied on a large network of stakeholders and community leaders to set the fluoridation record straight.
But first, let’s take a trip back to the 1950s, when opponents argued that fluoridation was a communist conspiracy (seriously, they did). Regardless, in 1952 San Diego decided to fluoridate its water supply, but suffered a major setback in 1954 when a ballot initiative passed making fluoridating San Diego’s water illegal. Fast forward to 1995: the California governor signs legislation requiring certain water agencies to fluoridate, but only with nontaxpayer funds — and so San Diego was exempt. But in 2007, San Diego’s First 5 Commission, which promotes wellness among young children via tobacco taxes, voted to give San Diego water districts funds to fluoridate.
It’s a good thing too: San Diego Council President Scott Peter told session attendees that San Diego is the largest U.S. city that doesn’t fluoridate its water, and only 9 percent of the city’s imported water is fluoridated. Plus, studies have found that hundreds of thousands of California children suffer from tooth decay, with Hispanic children suffering at nearly twice the rate, said Eleanor Nadler, director of the San Diego Fluoridation Coalition. Finally, presenter Marjorie Stocks, of the California Dental Association Foundation, stressed the long-term coalition building and patience needed to bring fluoridation to any community.
“Fluoridation is not a sprinter’s game, it’s definitely a marathon,” she said.
So raise your glasses (of fluoridated water) to public health prevention!