It used to be that opposing fluoride was a black helicopter thing, family physician Alan Bates told a Senate committee considering forced fluoridation of Oregons water systems.

Bates, a Democratic state representative from Eagle Point, isnt worried about a one-world government, but he is concerned about fluoridation.

Im starting to get uncomfortable with what Ive been reading about the drawbacks of fluoride, he said.

Fluoride advocates believe adding the substance to public water systems would reduce public health care costs and improve dental health in the general population.

However, while fluoride helps prevent cavities, it is a poison. Toothpaste labels carry warnings, and European countries have been removing it from their tap water, according to Hardy Limeback, a professor of preventative dentistry at the University of Toronto.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would force municipal water systems that serve 10,000 or more people to add fluoride to the water.

Baker City was on a list of affected communities compiled by the Oregon Health Department and submitted to the Legislature.

City officials believe the water system serves a number of people roughly equivalent to the citys population.

That puts Baker City on the cusp. Past Portland State University estimates have pegged the citys population at well over 10,000. The most recent census figure, however, put the city just under that threshold.

Regardless of the bills impact on Baker City, forced medication of the public is bad medicine. Fluoride is available in the American diet, and new mothers are advised about the benefits to teeth formation of fluoride drops and tablets for their young children.

Imagine if the argument linking fluoridation and dental health were extended to other public health concerns.

Isnt the risk of osteoporosis high enough to warrant adding calcium to the water supply?

No, because public health advisories educate the people most at risk like women who eat calcium-poor diets about the benefits of calcium.

What about arthritis? Wouldnt a few parts per million of dissolved aspirin aid sufferers?

How about glucosamine? Some soft-tissue damage sufferers swear by the so-called joint-lubricating benefits of the substance.

These arent matters for government to decide for us. We rely on government for safe drinking water, but super drinking water that will cure or prevent what ails us isnt a prescription we need.

The public can be informed about the value of fluoride or other substances through public health campaigns or consultation with their private physician.

And if the state Legislature really wants to focus on the health benefits of Oregons water, it has only to borrow this chorus of testimonials from the advertising world:

Sugar free.

Fat free.

Thirst quenching.

Lets not do anything unnecessary to erode one more marketable attribute: all natural.