Bennington Oral Health Coalition set to make its case at Dec. 22 meeting
A committee plans to make the case before the Bennington Select Board for fluoridating the town’s water.
Richard Dundas, a doctor from Bennington and member of the Bennington Oral Health Coalition, spoke during the citizen’s comment portion of Monday’s select board meeting. “You can ask your dentist, your doctor, a dental hygienist, a nurse, they’ll all tell you the same thing: That oral health in this town is deplorable. We would like your support, and the support of town officials, in the fluoridation effort, we would like an opportunity for further discussion, and we would like an article put on the ballot for March of this coming year.”
The board agreed to hear a presentation at their Dec. 22 meeting, at which point they would presumably begin deliberations as to whether to put the question to the voters. Opponents will also be invited to speak at this time. This would mark the sixth time that Bennington has considered fluoridating its water, most recently in 2002. “Each of these failed, unfortunately,” said Dundas, “so the oral health problems that existed in 1963 still exist today.”
The first time Bennington discussed the issue was in 1963, 11 years after Burlington first fluoridated its water supply. The first city in the country to fluoridate its water was Detroit in 1945. According to Dundas, that city soon saw a 67 percent decrease in cavities.
“The opposition is misinformed, but very vocal, and must have been persuasive over the years,” said Dundas.
The Oral Health Coalition was founded after the Vermont Office of Rural Development helped organize several local committees in Bennington in 2012, to deal with various problems in the town. One of those committees, a poverty working group, eventually formed an oral health subcommittee, which over time turned into the group that exists today, which is made up of a doctor, two dentists, a dental hygienists, two nurses, a teacher, and others. “We meet in secret so the anti-fluoridationists won’t get wind of us,” he joked.
“We kind of dismissed [fluoridation] out of hand,” said Sue Andrews, executive director of Bennington Interfaith Community Services, who has been working on the committee for the past two years, “because it seemed like a much bigger undertaking, but the longer we worked on this, we realized, in terms of the biggest bang for the buck, if you put a few dollars into the front end of public health, you win big time in terms of improvements in public health. Better dental outcomes translates into economic advantages. If you don’t have cavities, you don’t have to spend money at the dentist. A huge problem in our society, and Vermont is a great example, is loss of work time because of dental pain. That’s an economic issue right there. You can’t go to work because you’re in so much agony, and if you don’t go to work your family doesn’t get fed. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Andrews said that the Kitchen Cupboard food pantry, which is operated by BICS, often is able to distribute toothbrushes, and she has found that many in the community would go without if not for those donations. “People don’t have toothbrushes, they don’t have toothpaste at all. We think it’s a standard, you go into your bathroom at night and put toothpaste on your toothbrush, but people don’t have that. They don’t have the gargles with the fluoride in them. Think of living in poverty, having all this chaos in your life. The last thing you have time for is to get your kid a toothbrush. You’re making rent, you’re not buying toothpaste.”
At the select board meeting, board chair Greg Van Houten responded to Dundas, saying, “I was actually against fluoridation for several reasons, one of which being a widespread dispersion of a chemical in our water supply, which doesn’t just go to your teeth, it goes throughout the community, watering lawns and runoff and things like that, and the other being the constitutional aspect of individual choice of what’s in your water. So, I’ve been doing some homework since, and the Internet is now at my fingertips, and I’ve been reading such things as CDC papers and environmental reports and whatnot, and I’ve found out that most of what I believed is not true, that the environmental impacts are nil.”
“I grew up in a fluoridated community,” Van Houten continued, “and I didn’t have a cavity until I was 18 years old, and that was true for my family and most people I knew. Just in the last month or so, after I got wind of this, I’ve had a hard time building a case against it.”
After Town Manager Stuart Hurd confirmed that the presentation would be put on the agenda for the next meeting, Van Houten said, “It’s going to be a big discussion. There’s a lot of people that feel passionately both ways.”