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Bid to Fluoridate L.A. Water Gives Medical Experts Reason to Smile : Health: The City Council proposal to add the cavity-fighting compound may resurrect old debates.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It isn’t in the water. And that came as a surprise to Manoj M. Amin, who has practiced dentistry in Los Angeles for 14 years.

“It should be there,” the Silver Lake dentist said.

Victoria Silva, whose 4-year-old daughter has four cavities that Amin discovered Thursday on the girl’s first dental visit, also was surprised.

Many Angelenos were open-mouthed at the news that the Los Angeles City Council last week instructed the water board to find out how much it would cost and how much trouble it would be to add cavity-preventing fluoride to the Los Angeles water supply.

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Didn’t that battle get played out decades ago? Wasn’t that the moldy debate in which the John Birch Society warned that putting fluoride in the water was really another step toward secret government control of American life? Don’t we have fluoride in our water?

Well, no. Los Angeles is among the few major U.S. cities without it.

The City Council voted against fluoridation in 1966 after six years of debate. In 1975, residents rejected the cavity-fighting compound.

The issue spawned a rancorous debate, with an unlikely coalition of arch-conservatives and natural-foodies fighting the doctors, dentists and government officials. The conservatives said fluoridating water was a Communist plot to poison Americans. The herbal contingent saw fluoride as a chemical food additive; if it wasn’t natural, it couldn’t be good.

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For 20 years, the city stayed out of the jaws of that particular battle.

But last week Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who used to write a health newsletter, took the fluoride bit between her teeth and made the motion to re-examine the issue.

She was encouraged to do so, she said, by a state bill mandating fluoridation in most California water systems. The bill cleared a key Senate committee Wednesday.

Still, the issue promises to bring out some old foes.

Although the fall of the Iron Curtain apparently squashed the Communist plot theory, some groups continue to dispute scientific data suggesting that fluoridation poses no health hazards and helps prevent cavities.

Anti-fluoridation activists claim that the substance may cause cancer, brittle bones, mental disorders and a variety of other ailments. Among some, there is also a lingering unease about adding anything to the city’s water supply.

Proponents argue that fluoridation is a cost-effective and safe way to keep Los Angeles smiling.

“Anyone with teeth will benefit,” said Dr. Caswell Evans, assistant director of health services for the county Health Department. Both the medical and dental establishments have praised fluoridation, citing recent studies that credit it with reducing tooth decay nationwide about 25%.

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Los Angeles is not the only large California city to lag behind the national trend of fluoridation that began 50 years ago. Sacramento, San Jose and San Diego also do not add fluoride to their reservoirs.

The motion approved Wednesday by the City Council ordered the Board of Water and Power Commissioners to find out what it would take to put fluoride in city water and ordered the Department of Water and Power to find the money to make it possible.

Galanter said fluoridation is a sound way to protect children’s teeth, especially those from modest backgrounds who visit the dentist less regularly.

Victoria Silva said she figures fluoridated water might have saved her the money she spent on fluoride tablets for her two eldest children. And it might have saved her 4-year-old, who never took the tablets, some uncomfortable future visits to the dentist.


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