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Durango fluoride fight hearkens to Colorado Springs brown stain history

January 19, 2017 Updated: January 19, 2017 at 4:32 pm
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photo - In this photo taken May 3, 2016, a water sample is collected from a classroom drinking fountain in Tacoma, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
In this photo taken May 3, 2016, a water sample is collected from a classroom drinking fountain in Tacoma, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) 

A fight over fluoride in Durango is nothing to smile at. It's gotten pretty gnarly, judging from the excellent coverage of The Durango Herald.

Next month the City Council is expected to decide whether to put a yes-or-no question on the ballot in April to let voters decide whether the city should continue to add fluoride to its city water supply.

The town built by hard-rock miners is being roiled by those who think fluoride does more harm than good and constitutes a violation of their civil liberties - since the government is forcing a chemical on them.

There is some Colorado history to consider here. It was the dreaded Colorado Brown Stain that led to the discovery that moderate levels of fluoride in drinking water could help prevent cavities.

To put it frankly, folks in Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs had some darn ugly teeth, like, worse than England or Alabama, in the early 1900s.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the federal government's lead agency for dental research, explains:

"Fluoride research had its beginningss in 1901, when a young dental school graduate named Frederick McKay left the East Coast to open a dental practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado. When he arrived, McKay was astounded to find scores of Colorado Springs natives with grotesque brown stains on their teeth. So severe could these permanent stains be, in fact, sometimes entire teeth were splotched the color of chocolate candy. McKay searched in vain for information on this bizarre disorder. He found no mention of the brown-stained teeth in any of the dental literature of the day. Local residents blamed the problem on any number of strange factors, such as eating too much pork, consuming inferior milk, and drinking calcium-rich water. Thus, McKay took up the gauntlet and initiated research into the disorder himself. His first epidemiological investigations were scuttled by a lack of interest among most area dentists. But McKay persevered and ultimately interested local practitioners in the problem, which was known as Colorado Brown Stain."

The problem was too much fluoride in the water, but researchers found that by moderating it to a certain amount it helped prevent cavities.

The Fluoride Action Network, however, lists 50 reasons to oppose it in public water supplies, led by the fact its the only chemical added to water for medical reasons.

Supporters, however, are led by the American Dental Association, and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists water fluoridation one of 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.

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