Port Angeles City Council to form subcommittee focused on education, fluoride options

Move to inform water users on maintaining dental health follows decision to halt public fluoridation.

PORT ANGELES — The City Council will form a subcommittee to help educate municipal water users on their options after what is at least the temporary demise of public fluoridation.

Council members decided by consensus to form the group in the wake of their 4-3 decision Aug. 2, at Mayor Patrick Downie’s suggestion, to stop putting fluorosilicic acid in the water supply at least until a Nov. 7, 2017, advisory election on whether to resume the controversial practice.

After it had been continued for 10 years Dec. 15, fluoridation was stopped under pressure from residents who blamed fluoridation for a host of medical maladies and said they should have a choice in the matter — in the face of doctors, dentists and other health professionals who extolled its virtues in preventing tooth decay.

Councilman Michael Merideth said Wednesday he expects the council will further discuss forming the subcommittee at the next regular council meeting Aug. 30.

“I’d like to see this get going as soon as possible,” Merideth said.

He said the subcommittee will come up with a recommendation for the council “on how to go about educating the public” on maintaining dental health that would include ways to obtain fluoride on their own.

He joined other council members in authorizing the committee Tuesday after council discussion prefaced by entreaties from Dr. Scott Kennedy, Olympic Medical Center chief medical officer, and Dr. Tom Locke, the Jefferson County public health officer and a medical director at the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe’s Jamestown Family Health Clinic.

“This council has to take responsibility for informing the community on what is about to occur,” Locke said.

“That, specifically, is the loss of this benefit [fluoridation],” he said, asserting that dental health declines without fluoridation by the same magnitude that it improves with fluoridation.

“This should be done in an accurate, honest and client-based way, [on] what is about to happen and what they can do to potentially mitigate this harm.

“It’s not as easy as buying a fluoride pill for everyone.”

Council members were divided on forming a new committee or following the recommendations of an ad hoc committee that included council members Brad Collins, who voted for fluoridation, and Sissi Bruch, who voted against it.

Bruch said Wednesday the committee agreed to write letters earlier this year pushing for higher reimbursable amounts for dentists to treat low-income patients and to ask the Washington Dental Service Foundation to have its mobile SmileMobile dental clinic make more visits to the Port Angeles area.

She said the city has yet to hear back from the foundation.

Councilman Lee Whetham, who joined Downie, Bruch and Merideth in voting to discontinue fluoridation, said the council should stick with the ad hoc committee’s recommendation and leave it at that.

“Otherwise, we are going back into the trap of fluoride, and I have no interest in going down that road again,” he said.

“We are going to get thrown into controversy again.”

The recommendations are expected to include input from Port Angeles School District Superintendent Marc Jackson and Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Chris Frank.

“What is the best dental care we need to have does not necessarily need to come from us; it needs to come from the health department and others,” Bruch said.

Whetham said it would be “ludicrous” to hear from public health officials about “how we are going to spread the news.”

“Are you kidding me?” responded Councilman Dan Gase, who voted with council members Cherie Kidd and Brad Collins on Aug. 2 against discontinuing fluoridation.

Those three had joined Downie on Dec. 15 in voting to continue the practice before Downie voted to discontinue it.

Frank, who was not at the meeting, said Wednesday if there was an adequate substitute for fluoridation as a dental health measure, “we would have already advocated for that.”

School-based programs have faded away as community water fluoridation has proven more effective, Frank said.

He said topical fluoride varnishes can be applied twice yearly to the teeth of children whose teeth have just started growing to about age 5 or until they have established regular care with a dentist.

For adults, the goal absent community fluoridation will be to expand their access to preventive dental health care and to encourage all adults to use toothpaste that contains fluoride.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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