City Cast

What’s the Deal With Portland’s No Fluoride Stance?

Rachel Monahan
Posted on January 30   |   Updated on June 11
Portland water is unusual, partly because it lacks added fluoride. (Getty Images/Cavan Images)

Portland water is unusual, partly because it lacks added fluoride. (Getty Images/Cavan Images)

Portland, unlike almost all the major cities in the U.S., doesn’t add fluoride to the water. It’s a curiosity, both to newcomers and plenty of people who have lived here a long time.

It is unusual.
More than 70% of Americans have fluoride in their water, at least when there aren’t shortages of the substance.And there is scientific consensus around the idea that fluoride in the proper doses is good for teeth. 

🦷 The Centers for Disease Control said “wide-spread water fluoridation as one of the 10 most important public health accomplishments of the 20th century,” the Washington Post reported in 2013

🦷 The American Dental Association has recommended fluoride in water since the 1950s.

But if your typical Portland voter has rallied around science during the COVID pandemic these last few years, worries about keeping the water “clean” also won the day recently. In 2013, Portland voters delivered a crushing defeat to the pro-fluoride city officials; here’s what happened. 

🦷 City Council voted unanimously to add fluoride to the water. (A unanimous vote usually tamps down controversy, but this issue was immediately referred to the ballot by energized opponents.)

🦷 Proponents of fluoride raised twice the amount as opponents. 

🦷 But then voters rejected it overwhelmingly — 61% to 39%

2013 was the fourth time Portland voters opposed fluoride. But times change: hell, voters finally approved a change to the commission form of government last year. Maybe this will change too. Who knows.

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