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A Path Forward for Children's Dental Health: Alternatives to community water fluoridation in Multnomah County

Too many of Multnomah County’s children lack access to basic preventive dental care. Oregon fares about average when compared to national measures of dental health, but average is not good enough. Portland, Multnomah County and Oregon can do better for children.

We will not substantially reduce rates of tooth decay without new strategies to reach the populations that have the greatest need. Leaders and dental champions must embrace scientifically validated practices that have the support of the community.

In the spring of 2013, health advocates proposed adding fluoride to Portland’s public water supply to improve dental health. It became one of the most contentious civic debates in recent memory. Ultimately, voters rejected water fluoridation 60.6 percent to 39.4 percent. Since 1957, voters have rejected fluoridation four times and approved it once. Regardless of one’s position on water fluoridation, Portland voters appear highly unlikely to approve it in the foreseeable future.

Representatives from the two sides of the issue therefore agreed in the fall of 2013 to find attainable, cost-effective measures that would improve the dental health of Multnomah County’s children. They sought to develop compromise strategies that both proponents and opponents of water fluoridation could support.

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Christian Trejbal