It had all the trappings of a debate on a national stage: The country’s foremost critic of fluoridation and representatives of the national organization that promotes its use with a local medical community that has seen its benefits.
And it all happened in Houston, Mo., on a Monday night with the Houston City Council looking on as it found itself reliving a decision made 16 years ago to add fluoride to the water supply to improve dental health in the community. Houston is among about 75 percent of the country’s population now covered. Cabool also is included after generations of Cartwrights — the town’s early dentists — promoted it. Supporters say the benefits are undeniable. Critics say it is a health danger.
Houston’s city government says the discussion was sparked by questions raised by George Sholtz, an Upton resident and a principal in a radio station whose airwaves cover Texas County and other regions. Sholtz, who frequently attends council meetings, raised questions about fluoridation at an earlier meeting and in writing. The council called for a public hearing and asked questions.
What resulted was a visit organized by opponents, including Sholtz and Marie Lasater of Licking, from Dr. Paul Connett, who operates an anti-fluoridation group, “Fluoride Action Network.” That led the president of the American Fluoridation Society, Dr. Jonny Johnson Jr., and a colleague, Steve Slott, to arrive to provide an alternative view in an exchange at the Houston Storm Shelter and later at city hall, the venue for that early hearing in 2002 that filled the town’s city hall.
The one-hour hearing allowed anyone to give a three-minute comment to the council. Later, the principals in the debate each had time to address the council at Houston City Hall during its regular meeting.
Here’s what was said at the shelter — with City Administrator Tona Bowen at the time clock as the speakers rose for three minutes:
•Sholtz said the fluoridation effort over the decades is an example of “government control” and the work of two federal agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Environment Protection Agency, couldn’t be trusted to provide reliable information.
•Vicki Wilbers, executive director of the Missouri Dental Association based in Jefferson City, said the organization fully supports efforts by communities for fluoridation or by individuals to utilize in private wells. First-hand experience in her own household was no effects on learning.
•Lasater, an RN and county coroner from Licking, said she had a passion for the anti-fluoridation effort and hopes to complete a doctoral thesis on the mineral’s effect on bones.
•Steve Hutcheson, a former long-time mayor who guided the original decision, said Houston’s participation comes at a time that about three-quarters of the country’s population is included. He noted that even the country’s milk supply is fortified for health benefits. “If we take fluoride out, where do we stop?” he asked.
•Connett, a New York resident, said some studies show that fluoride results in a lower iQ. A urine study revealed that lower intelligence was associated with exposure, he said. Supporters disputed the study later.
•Dr. Terry Cartwright, a retired Cabool dentist, warned the seven-member council to “be careful of your studies.” Opponents will throw a stack of studies on the matter, and added, “If it is on the internet, it doesn’t mean it is true.” She urged common sense and noted dentists are readily supportive of fluoridation because they see the results first-hand with few cavities.
•Dr. Tom Dunn, a local veterinarian, said he’d seen the advances in his own household, including with one child who at one time experienced cavity issues but was resolved through fluoridation. He noted his nine-year tenure as school president and the 21 years for Dr. Joe Richardson, where mobile dental teams were used at the school to help students who otherwise had little or no access to teeth care. Fluoridation has helped, he said.
•And the calls for maintaining the fluoridation continued: A dentist who said the program is provided at minimum costs and pays dividends for families by reducing dental bills. An Eldon woman who used fluoride supplements because of well water. Despite the best intentions of people, a lot of disinformation is on the internet, she said.
•Johnny Johnson Jr. of the American Fluoridation Society disputed Connett’s assertions during his brief time. A Cabool woman who at one time worked at a dental clinic and saw benefits first-hand and noted no lowered iQs or problems with broken bones.
•Richardson, a Houston dentist, said Houston is progressive community and was proud of the efforts to reduce tooth decay over the last 16 years. He cited similar opinions from Dr. Tom Baggett, a local dentist, and another colleague, Dr. Mark Dake from West Plains. Dr. Emily Taylor, a pediatric dentist from Rolla, said dentists support the issue because they are committed to the well-being of their patients.
•Lastly, Karen Becker of Houston shared an anecdote of using filtered water, experiencing a cavity and returning to tap water without any more dental issues.
Many people in attendance didn’t address the council.