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Fluoride battle not over yet

* . VOTERS SPEAK: Despite 'loss at the polls, those in favor of fluoride, will continue the fight.

SANTA CRUZ voters have spoken: they don't want the city to add fluoride to their water.

The vote is a disappointment to those of us who believe that fluoridated water is good public health policy, and that those least able to afford dental problems will pay most

Proponents of fluoridated water haven't lost the war yet. A significant question remains about whether the city can legally block fluoridation. The state has ordered larger water agencies throughout California to add the substance to the,water supply as a way to help protect children from cavities.

Opponents of fluoride are suspicious of the government's adding something to the water supply that they see as potentially harmful. They cite a number of studies that they say demonstrate health risks as a result of fluoridation.

We don't buy their argument. We choose to believe the volume of evidence that demonstrates the safety of fluoride--and the payoff that the added fluoride will protect the teeth of those not receiving it at the dentist's office.

Fluoride in the water supply helps those unlikely to visit the dentist: the poorest people in the community. By not giving them fluoride, society is denying them access to the best possible dental health.

We understand to some extent the reluctance of fluoridation. There's something creepy about allowing the government to introduce substances into our drinking water. But upon further reflection, we remember that we already trust them to put in the right amount of disinfectants like chlorine; if we can trust them that far, we can trust them with fluo ride.

The issue isn't over yet. The fight against fluoridation started with a 6-1 vote by the City Council to ban fluoride, and then got carried over into a popular vote to place the ban into the city charter. We were disappointed that less than 25 percent of the voting public showed up at the polls, but that's what you get in an off-year election.

The next stage of the battle could involve the courts. The state will follow up on its order to fluoridate, and if Santa Cruz refuses, the state could sue.

WE GIVE the fluoridation opponents credit for mounting an effective battle. They won the election fair and square, but we don't think the matter should just end here.

Good public health policies re quire that other voices in the community continue to be heard on be half of those that fluoride would help. Many of those who oppose fluoride in the water are ensuring that their children are protected from tooth decay. We would wish for the same level of protection for others, even those unable to pay for adequate dental care.