Sometimes it could get a little lonesome being a fluoride proponent in the Brainerd area.
Dentists Jack Echternacht and Bob Uppgaard argued for fluoridation but saw few of their colleagues publicly support them.
"Very few of them did," recalled Echternacht, now retired and living on Gull Lake. "It was such a controversial thing."
He didn't notice that his fluoride advocacy noticeably hurt his practice but said it would have been nice if more dentists had spoken out in favor of fluoridation.
"It would have helped a lot," he said. "It was pretty traumatic for my family, especially for my wife. People would call at all hours of the night."
Uppgaard, 76, said he'd rather not comment on why more dentists didn't step forward to support fluoridation.
"There are a lot of reasons why they didn't," he said. "They could lose patients. I think there was a certain fear that you didn't want to challenge these people."
"When I started challenging Irene (Johnson, an anti-fluoride leader) she didn't like it so well."
Uppgaard said he is more convinced today than ever that the anti-fluoride forces were wrong.
Echternacht doesn't remember precisely when he started urging the city to fluoridate but does recall he became interested in the potential to prevent tooth decay after hearing a U.S. Chamber of Commerce presentation.
The controversy became pretty heated in Brainerd, he said.
"A fellow came to my office and threatened me one day," he said. "Somebody fired a shot at my office."
Echternacht said the results of fluoridation have been fantastic for children. Tests have shown it has been safe and effective, he said.
Why were the opponents able to put off fluoridation in Brainerd for so many years?
"It's really hard to say," Echternacht said. "There were a few individuals who were really, really opposed to it and they didn't give up. It's hard to explain. They chose not to believe the facts. Their criticisms were not based on fact.
"When I went out of town the city was ridiculed."
Even today, memories of the controversy make some who advised that the city obey the state law to fluoridate reluctant to rehash the issue. Bob Olson of Brainerd was one of those. He declined to be interviewed by The Dispatch on the topic.
"The issue was settled 20 years ago," he said in a written statement. "I find it hard to believe that The Brainerd Dispatch would want to start this controversy all over again. Twenty years ago there were tense feelings on both sides of the issue and I don't feel that we need this to happen again."
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