An Assembly of Pieces

James Anderson Merritt's piecemeal thoughts and observations, and the occasional attempt to put some of the pieces together.
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All material except cited quotations Copyright (C) 2004-2008 by James Anderson Merritt. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, August 21, 2002

I think I may very well be on the (rail?-) road to being labeled as a "fluoridation wacko." Years ago, Santa Cruz voters approved an initiative ordinance that prohibited the medication (including fluoridation) of the municipal water supply, after a heated and acrimonious campaign. Last year, the Watsonville city council secured grant funding to fluoridate that city's water, and were proceeding with fluoridation plans, over the loud objections of many citizens. The latter group managed to qualify an initiative for the November 2002 election, and now the pro- and anti- fluoridation forces are at each others' throats in the south county. Of course, the Sentinel has recommended fluoridation on several occasions, during and after the Santa Cruz election. On July 12, they published their most recent endorsement, this time saying that south county anti-fluoridationists were making the wrong argument. I agreed in the following letter, which the Sentinel published on July 26:

Don’t fluoridate water

The Sentinel is right. Watsonville anti-fluoridationists are making the wrong argument. Why leave to federal or state bureaucrats any aspect of the decision about local water content? The proper argument won approval in Santa Cruz’s special election several years ago. The public water supply is simply the wrong vehicle to deliver any medicinal substance, including fluoride.

Not only did six Santa Cruz council members vote against putting medicine in the water supply (as pointed out by the Sentinel’s editorial of July 12), but so did thousands of city voters — a majority. A similar majority may reject fluoridation in Watsonville this November. If so, will the Sentinel and other fluoridation proponents finally realize that what the people want is pure, clean water? I certainly get that message whenever I must wait in line at one of the many coin-operated water vending machines around the county. The demand for clean water, even at the going rate of thirty cents per gallon, is strong, seeming to cut across all economic, racial, ethnic and social strata. Is that too much to ask?

Someone should offer fluoridated drinking water at vending-machine prices. Then, at least the large, diverse crowd of people who now purchase water from the machines could "vote" in the marketplace. But since fluoride doesn’t help when ingested — only when put into direct contact with teeth — I’ll continue to get mine from toothpaste and mouthwash that I don’t swallow, rather than from water I drink.



I was quite proud of myself for having made the libertarian point effectively and succinctly. But a couple of weeks later, Aptos's Linda Mathis responded to my letter in a way that, I felt, continued in the fluoridationists' long tradition of marginalizing anyone who even expressed doubt that we must dose the water by any means necessary. Here is my rebuttal, which the Sentinel was kind enough to publish in its print edition on Saturday, Augsut 17th:

No flouride in water

Yet again, a water fluoridation supporter has characterized someone who speaks in opposition — me! — as a "not educated" purveyor of "false information" (and by extension, an obstacle to doing the "responsible" thing). How emotionally polarized the fluoridation debate has become, if dental-hygiene student Linda Mathis will publicly ascribe a fellow citizen’s honest disagreement with her position, to his irresponsible ignorance!

As parent and voter, I try my best to fulfill my responsibility to understand the facts surrounding public policy questions. The best fluoridation information contains mixed messages. For instance, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, while generally favoring fluoridation, admit "fluoride’s caries-preventive properties initially were attributed to changes in enamel during tooth development ... and a belief that fluoride incorporated into enamel during tooth development would result in a more acid-resistant mineral. However, laboratory and epidemiologic research suggests that fluoride prevents dental caries predominately after eruption of the tooth into the mouth, and its actions primarily are topical for both adults and children" ( This and similar statements in other reputable health publications lead me to discount any worthwhile benefit of ingested fluoride.

I’d be interested to see evidence that convinced Ms. Mathis of fluoridated water’s enormous benefits to pre-erupted teeth. Regardless, the real or imagined benefits of fluoride are not the essential issue; rather, it is whether a public water supply should be used for the mass-delivery of any medicine (much less medicines, like fluoride, which are readily available to all who wish to consume them voluntarily).



I hope that this will at least help future letter-writers to stick to the issues and the facts, rather than impugn the characters and education of their opponents. I also hope that Ms. Mathis and others will dig deeper into the subjects they study, and not take as gospel whatever teachers or textbooks say. I don't say that even the CDC is right on this issue, but it is certainly wrong to say that someone like me, who has gone to the trouble of consulting the CDC and other sources, is "not educated" or speaks out of ignorance. Authorities simply disagree, so just how is a citizen to draw good conclusions? If we are to believe the CDC, then Ms. Mathis is the one spreading misinformation (unintentionally, I'm sure). If we are not to believe the CDC, then whom? When there is such doubt and disagreement surrounding an issue, as seems to be the case with fluoridation, I think it is best to follow the hippocratic oath: "first, do no harm."

Oddly enough, the online Sentinel published my letter on the 17th, under the heading "No fluoride in water," just as in the print edition. But the online edition's archives for the 15th and 16th also contain the same letter, published under a caption that was closer to my point: "No fluoride in public water." I am wondering 1) why the Sentinel didn't use the more appropriate caption when they finally managed to run my letter in print; and 2) whether they had actually intended to print my letter sooner, but kept putting it off for various reasons (e.g., last-minute space constraints) until they finally published it in the "Saturday morning graveyard." I may never know the answer, but at least they haven't edited my letters to muddy or eliminate the real issue of freedom: the public can agree unanimously on the need for clean, pure water, which is all that the city should deliver. Medicine should always be prescribed and taken individually, not delivered en massse via water supplies and similar means. I don't care if we are talking about fluoride, antibiotics, influenza vaccine, or even vitamin C. Medicine is not and never has been a "one size fits all" discipline. To my ears, at least, "medical professionals" who advocate mass-medication approaches sound less like healers and more like bureaucrats and politicians. I have only learned to trust the former after many years, while at the same time learning that putting trust in even the finest examples of the latter is unwise.


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