REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Tea Party activism is behind decision to remove the dentifrice from public drinking water

Residents in Pinellas County, Florida, might want to invest in some stronger toothpaste. County commissioners recently voted to stop adding fluoride to public drinking water supplies, a move apparently encouraged by local Tea Party activists and one that goes counter to decades of medical advice.

Fluoride has been added to public drinking water supplies since the 1940s in an effort to improve dental health. This week's vote in Pinellas will stop the flow of fluoride to county water used by about 700,000 people.

The American Dental Association calls water fluoridation “one of our most potent weapons in disease prevention," and the Centers for Disease Control named it one of the country’s “Ten Great Public Health Achievements.”

As the St. Petersburg Times reports, the Tea Party movement helped elect the Pinellas County commissioner who had rallied to have the water de-fluoridated.

"If it was so required for everybody, why isn't the entire country doing it? People are not dying because they don't have fluoride," Commissioner John Morroni told the Times. "If you take care of yourself, go to the dentist, brush your teeth, you're going to be okay."

But as our own Richard Florida noted in his recent piece “America’s Great Dental Divide,” not everybody is going to the dentist. Florida, like much of the south, falls into the lower range of places where people visit the dentist regularly. Eliminating fluoride will likely drive up incidences of decay, especially in places, like Florida, where dental visits are already low.

Groups like the Fluoride Action Network contend that the science is murky on the benefits of fluoride, and that too much of it can be harmful, especially to kids. The idea of a government adding something to the water does spark dystopian visions, as well as conspiracy theories. The truth may not be black and white, but it could be interesting to look at dental records in Pinellas County a few years from now to see how much their overall dental health changes.

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