A mouthful – and then some – of talk about fluoride in the city’s water system got the attention of the Keizer City Council this week.

A work session held Monday, Oct. 11, brought forth at-times emotional testimony on whether fluoridated water is a best-bang-for-your-buck public health maneuver, a futile exercise that actually harms some populations, or somewhere in between.

The matter could be raised again at the council’s regular session this Monday, Oct. 18.

Mayor Lore Christopher even raised the prospect of having residents vote on the matter, given the likelihood of a special election restricting big box retail stores in March 2011.

Dr. Bill Osmunson, a dentist in Lake Oswego, offered a Powerpoint presentation declaring his opposition to fluoridating water, saying there’s no signs adding the substance to public water reduces dental caries, and is considered a poison.

“When I read my toothpaste label … it says, Do not swallow,” Osmunson said, noting the same tube calls for contacting a Poison Control Center if swallowed.

He acknowledged a worldwide decline in dental caries, but questioned if fluoride was the reason, saying countries that don’t fluoridate their water have seen similar declines. He presented similar statistics for states that are predominately fluoridated versus those that are not.

“There’s no evidence fluoridation is the reason all this decreased,” Osmunson said.

Other reasons Osmunson pointed out included increases cases of fluorosis – a tooth-discoloring condition resulting from too much fluoride –the possibility of a connection between fluoride and a lower IQ in children, possible increases in cancer in young males and thyroid problems.

Dr. Kurt Ferre, a retired dentist living in Portland, then presented the pro-fluoride side. He emphasized the role access to care has in positive dental health, and noted a Louisiana Medicaid study showing populations with fluoridated water had half the dental costs of those without fluoride in the local supply.

Noting his work with disadvantaged populations, Ferre said a colleague saw vast differences in the number of children requiring hospitalization for major dental work: None in The Dalles, which has fluoridated water, with nine with children from Hood River, which doesn’t add the substance to the supply.

Dr. Weston Heringer III, whose father is also a dentist, said fluoridated water is a boon for children whose parents can’t or don’t get their children proper dental care.

“With our own children we can control what our kids eat, how often they go to the dentist,” Heringer III said. “… Parent-wise, we can’t control what (other) kids do.”

His father also chimed in.

“The bottom line is the low-income kids are the ones who really need the help,” he said. “They have parents who don’t give them the fluoride … tooth decay is a disease, it’s a preventable disease and it does really make a difference putting fluoride in the water.”

But Linda Coons, a Keizerite, wonders if that’s the government’s role.

“I feel we get plenty in toothpaste,” Coons said. “If we choose to purchase it we have a choice … “I’m concerned about the notion of doctors” doing something “for my benefit against my will.”

But Jodi Loper, health services coordinator for the local Boys and Girls Club, said not everyone has that choice.

“Maybe kids could go to Wal-Mart and get it for $4, but when you have four kids even $4 a prescription could be a challenge on their income,” Loper said.

Other dentists in the area offered their take on fluoridated versus non-fluoridated populations, all saying they saw a significant decline in dental caries when fluoride was present in the water.

“It’s really devastating when you see a little kid with just bombed-out teeth,” said Dr. April Love of Newberg. “They can’t eat nutritious food, they’re in pain, and when they have their treatment they become so dental-phobic that in many cases they’re dental-phobic for the rest of their lives.”

An issue for Walsh was where the fluoride came from. Public Works Director Rob Kissler said the city currently purchases it from a Japanese source, and had returned a recent purchase from China.

Councilor David McKane said the issue “is more of a philosophical question” given the “very small amount of money” required. The cost to add fluoride to the city’s water this year is $48,067, with costs of expanding it to all the city’s water pumps an additional $57,618 in one-time outlay costs. After that, Kissler reported annual costs would go up by just more than $30,000.

But Walsh said the practice needs to be sound in order to justify spending even that amount of money.

“Everything we spend money on in this city needs to be justified, each year,” Walsh said.