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New Fluoride Monument Has Less Bite

We always liked the Fluoride Monument in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It reminded us of a ragged set of teeth, it was covered with upbeat pro-fluoride propaganda (and the names of lots of donors), and it had a built-in drinking fountain. It was a good monument about fighting tooth decay, and about Grand Rapids being the first city in America to add fluoride to its water.

But after only 12 years, that monument is gone, replaced by 33-foot-tall, 5-ton piece of wavy metal named "Steel Water" that was unveiled on September 14, 2007. It, too, is a fluoride monument, but you'd never know it unless you read the small plaque at its base.

"This symbolizes strengthening the water and strengthening the teeth," said Amy DeYoung, president of the West Michigan District Dental Society. In fact, the dentists of Grand Rapids had never really warmed to the old monument. They wanted more "art," and only settled for the ragged-teeth-and-drinking-fountain because it was all that they could afford at the time. One early suggestion for the monument was a giant tooth on a pole in the middle of the Grand River, which would have been GREAT -- but it was dismissed by the dentists of Grand Rapids.

Another problem with the original monument was that, embarrassingly, it decayed. A combination of Grand Rapids winter weather and night-time vandals cracked and battered the marble. When the surrounding land was sold to an upscale hotel, and the dentists of Grand Rapids were told that their old monument would be lost in the shrubbery, they kicked their fund-raising into high gear. "Steel Water" cost a lot, but it's designed to last and to be noticed.

As for the fluoride part, Amy DeYoung insists that the muted tone of the new monument is not a concession to anti-fluoridationists who took offense at the old one. "We've been trying to push this more as the commemoration of an event in Grand Rapids," she told us. "Whether you agree with it or not, it did happen. And it's history now. So this is commemorating an historical event."

The old monument is now in storage. Amy told us that "we're hoping to relocate the portions of it that are still intact," possibly to the campus of Grand Rapids Community College.


Marriott Hotel

Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, MI
Along the riverwalk between Pearl and Fulton Sts, on the east bank of the Grand River, at the end of Louis Campau Promenade, at the entrance to the 24-floor Marriott Hotel. Directly across the river from the Van Andel Museum.
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