The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors earlier this week voted to spend $103,000 on an engineering and design report on fluoridation of the Sonoma County Water Agency's drinking water supply.
In Sonoma County, only Healdsburg and the Fitch Mountain area have fluoridated water.
The proposal to fluoridate water is one of five approaches to improve the dental health of the county's residents, especially low-income children and seniors. The other preventative measures include providing dental sealants for school-age children, varnishes in childhood, expanding access to dental care and education about brushing, flossing and eating a healthy diet.
A 2009 oral health assessment in the county found a crisis in untreated tooth decay and dental disease.
The fluoridated water would be received by 350,000 residents in Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Santa Rosa, Windsor, Sonoma, Forestville, the Valley of the Moon and 50,000 Novato area residents.
The cost of upgrading the county's water system to provide fluoridated water is estimated at $8.5 million, and the annual maintenance is estimated at $1 million.
The vote came after a four-hour hearing during which 63 people spoke both for and against fluoridation. Opponents of fluoridation objected to what they called "forced, mass medication," citing studies that claimed fluoride in water caused osteoporosis, cancer, thyroid disease, lower levels of intelligence in children, hip fractures in the elderly, stained and pitted teeth, and endocrine disruption.
They said sugars, processed foods, poor nutrition and soda are rotting children's teeth, and children will not benefit from fluoridated water because they drink either soda or bottled water.
"This is like using a sledge hammer to do surgery," one critic said.
Critics said the money would be better spent on education and providing dental care and dental clinics. Doctors, dentists and others health care providers said 70 percent of the country's population has fluoride in its water.
A final vote on fluoridation is not expected until 2014.
What's your take? Should Sonoma County fluoridate its water supply?