Pinellas County residents will not see it, taste it or smell it. Yet today marks a significant milestone in recommitting to established science and the public health. Today, fluoride is once again being added to the county's drinking water to help prevent tooth decay.
The county's 700,000 water customers were without fluoridated water for just two months. It took much longer to reverse the misguided 2011 decision by the Pinellas County Commission to stop fluoridating the water. Voters in November ousted two commission incumbents who were fluoride opponents and replaced them with two candidates who promised to reverse course. The commission voted 6-1 before Thanksgiving to return fluoride to the drinking water, and the switch was flipped at midnight.
For Pinellas, the fluoride controversy has been about more than politics. It energized dentists and public health officials who have now expanded efforts to ensure better access to quality dental care. It educated parents about the importance of fluoride in preventing tooth decay for their children. And it provided an opportunity for voters from both political parties to re-establish the county's reputation for centrist policies and its strong commitment to children, education and science.
The fluoride debate in Pinellas has not been confined to the county commission. Despite considerable pressure from fluoride opponents, Dunedin city commissioners voted to keep adding fluoride to the city's drinking water. Pinellas Park decided to add fluoride to the drinking water it receives from the county if the county did not reverse course. In Tarpon Springs, city officials decided to build a new water plant with the equipment to fluoridate the water. In Hillsborough County, Plant City adds fluoride to its drinking water today.
While those were positive steps, the debate and the battles to stop the fear-mongering and correct the inaccuracies from fluoride opponents continue. It only recently came to light that Brooksville City Council members quietly decided more than a year ago to stop adding fluoride to the drinking water, much to the surprise of the Hernando County health department. As in Pinellas, the Brooksville decision was initially characterized as a cost-saving move and then defended by misplaced concerns about too much fluoride. The Hernando health department wanted to set the record straight before the Brooksville City Council on Monday, but the anti-fluoride mayor would not allow it. A loud public debate similar to the one that took place in Pinellas County is underway in Portland, Ore., where city officials decided last year to add fluoride but opponents gathered enough signatures to put the issue before voters in May.
In Pinellas, the fluoride referendum was the county commission election, and voters made their position clear. Today, fluoride is back in the county drinking water. Families no longer have to worry about paying for fluoride treatments and pills for their children. Scare tactics, lies and political threats have been defeated by mainstream science, public health and common sense.