Wichita voters will consider adding fluoride to the city water supply when they go to the polls on Nov. 6, and both sides have waged heavy campaigns over the hotly contested issue.
Wichita’s history with the fluoride debate runs long and deep.
Fluoride was first considered, but never carried out in 1950. It was rejected by Mayor James Gardener in 1961. It was overwhelmingly approved by the city council, then rejected by voters in 1964. And again, overwhelmingly approved by the city council in 1977, then rejected by voters the following year.
So here we are again. Voting to either join the majority of the population in the United States and fluoridate. Or continue to be one of the largest communities to stand up against the practice.
The pro-fluoride group Wichitans For Healthy Teeth has the backing of more than 500 local dentists and physicians and sides with the Center for Disease Control, American Dental Association, and numerous other organizations that endorse fluoridation as an effective way to protect teeth against cavities and decay.
Earlier this month they brought in Dr. Bill Maas, a public health dentist and the former director oral health at the CDC. Maas travels the country with the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign. He says they recognize one of the reasons communities don’t fluoridate is because of misinformation.
"And with the advent of the Internet, bad information can get around the world at the speed of light," he says.
"And we notice that frequently when a community chooses not to fluoridate and the community gives their reasons against it, it turns out their reasons aren't based on facts."
Dr. Maas says the people who best understand the issues of water fluoridation are the scientists and doctors who work for organizations like the CDC, American Dental Association, the Environmental Protection Agency and National Institute of Health.
"You have to ask yourself if those people who have the best access to information and validate it and talk to other scientists that would know about this," says Maas.
"If this is the drinking water they want for their families to have in their children, then if they really had a problem as some of these claims are, those people would be the first to know it and raise doubts."
But anti-fluoridation activist and retired chemistry professor Dr. Paul Connett says organizations like the CDC continue to support fluoridation because they are trapped.
He was brought to town earlier this week by the anti-fluoridation group Wichitans Opposed to Fluoridation. He spoke to residents at local grocery store.
"They are trapped by a very long policy that they have supported for a very long time," says Connett.
"It is very difficult for bureaucracy to change a policy. policy is king you don’t challenge policy without being called a troublemaker."
Connett argues that for the major agencies, coming out against fluoridation would mean losing the public’s trust, so they continue to support and promote it.
Organizations that endorse fluoride maintain they do so because it is proven to reduce cavities by around 25 percent.
The major concern of opponents of fluoridation is health risks. Dr. Connett cites studies from China that saw lower IQs in children who ingested highly fluoridated water.
Those studies looked at areas with fluoride that was naturally occurring in the water at 3 to 11 times the amount that is being recommended for Wichita. And the Harvard researchers who reviewed the studies told the Wichita Eagle their research is not applicable to water fluoridation in the United States.
But Connett says, we should have a safety factor.
"You can't assume that small populations of Chinese or Indian or Iranian children represent the full range of sensitivity in a large population like the United States," he says.
Dr. Maas says decades of experience and thousands of studies should reassure the people of Wichita that fluoridation at point 7 parts per million - the amount recommended for the city - is safe.
"The national academy of sciences who had the responsibility to advise the EPA on this issue took three years to study all the research as well as the previous reports from that council and in 2006 they issued their report," says Maas.
"There are no concerns in these studies. Nothing in the report about concerns about health problems at the levels that we use for community water fluoridation."
If for no other reason Dr. Connett says the people of Wichita should vote no to what he calls ‘forced medication.’
"This has to be our right, what medicines we put into our body," says Connett.
"It is our right to determine and that is pretty sacred in modern medicine."
One thing is certain, on November 6 Wichita will add another chapter to it’s fluoride story.
Whether we go with the masses or stand up against them remains to be seen.