Organizers of the drive to put the question of fluoridation on ballots in Salt Lake County say they now have enough signatures. That's good news. With this important issue on the ballot, people can begin to educate themselves to cast an informed vote.
If they manage to cut through all the alarmist rhetoric, they will see that adding fluoride to the water supply would be a great service to the people of the state's most populous county.
Opponents have scant evidence with which to present their case. They talk about fluoride causing bones to become brittle, leading to hip fractures in the elderly. They talk about fluoride causing cancer and leading to Alzheimer's Disease. But they rely on studies that are inconclusive or that have been criticized for ignoring other possible causes.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta continues its strong support of fluoridation, citing no credible evidence of any harmful effects. In large quantities, fluoride is indeed harmful. But the amount added to water supplies is too little to cause any of these problems.
The overriding benefit to fluoridation is, of course, that it prevents tooth decay. During the second half of the 20th century, Americans experienced a sharp decline in dental cavities, largely because most municipal water systems began adding the mineral. Before that time, dentists had little choice but to extract decayed teeth, and little means to prevent the decay from taking place.
Other factors have helped this problem, as well, including fluoridated toothpaste. But the most effective way to prevent tooth decay in an entire community is through the water supply. This is especially important for children and for indigent people who may not have access to other sources of fluoride. But studies show it also can help adults gain stronger teeth.
About 70 percent of America's largest cities have fluoridated water. San Diego just joined that list thanks to a vote by its city council. The Southern Nevada Water Authority decided in January to fluoridate the Las Vegas area for the first time. It's time for Salt Lake County to do the same. Other counties in the state should follow suit.
In the coming months, expect to hear a lot about alleged scientific evidence about the harmful effects of fluoride. Expect to hear that credible scientists at the Centers for Disease Control are part of a conspiracy.
Just remember, not too long ago it was uncommon for anyone to keep his or her teeth for a lifetime. Then talk to your dentist. Chances are, he or she can tell immediately if someone was raised here or in a fluoridated area.