Fluoride in the Emerald City – History of Fluoridation in Seattle, Washington

Posted & filed under Children's Oral Health and Fluoride, Communities Supporting Fluoride, Fluoride and Public Health.

In the early 1950s, health officials in cities across the United States, including those in Seattle, Washington, were eager to replicate the massive success of the first longitudinal fluoridation study in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Seattle-King County Department of Public Health first proposed fluoridating Seattle’s water in 1951. The city council put the proposal to a referendum in 1952. But Seattle residents were not in favor of the idea, and fluoridation was defeated in a public vote, with 65% voting no and 35% voting yes.

Tooth decay in Seattle remained a huge problem, and advocates in the city – which included local dentists, PTAs, moms going door to door, and 15,000 residents signing on to a petition in favor of fluoridation – asked the city to consider the public health measure again in 1963. Voters still weren’t convinced. The campaign did not have the educational reach to make their case to voters nor did it have the support of the city council, which remained neutral. However, the vote was much closer than in 1952, with 57% opposed and 43% in favor of community water fluoridation, leading advocates to believe that they had successfully reached more people. It seemed that greater efforts to inform voters along with, perhaps, the fact that fluoridation had begun to prove its benefits in other cities, had an impact on hearts and minds.

Fluoridation advocates were undeterred. They knew fluoridated water would prevent cavities, and really wanted Seattle’s kids to enjoy the oral health benefits of easily accessible fluoride. In 1968, dentists, moms, and health officials again went to the city council, which – this time around – was convinced to weigh in on the science and dental health benefits of fluoridation. The Seattle city council  voted in favor of fluoridating Seattle’s water in 1968, and the measure was again put to a public vote. Seattle residents voted in favor of the public health measure, this time with 57% in favor and 43% opposed. With that win for oral health, Seattle started fluoridating on January 12, 1970 and has now enjoyed the cavity prevention benefits of fluoridated water for 52 years.