Gov. Ben Cayetano yesterday said that it is time to reconsider the issue of adding fluoride to Hawaii’s drinking water to reduce tooth decay among children.
Fluoridation hasn’t been seriously considered here since 1987. At the time, opponents questioned the safety of adding a new chemical to Hawaii’s water supply.
But yesterday, Cayetano noted Hawaii is “the healthiest state in the country except for our teeth.”
Hawaii is the only state where the general population does not have access to fluoridated water, said Dr. Mark Greer, chief of the state Department of Health’s Dental Health Division. The water supplies on military bases have been fluoridated since the mid-1950s, Greer said, adding that Hawaii has possibly the highest child tooth-decay rate in the nation.
In a 1999 study that examined more than 24,000 Hawaii children ages 5 to 9 statewide, the average number of decayed baby teeth per public school student was 3.9, he said. Students who lived on military bases averaged 1.5 decayed teeth.
The national average, according to an earlier study, is 1.9 decayed baby teeth per child, Greer said.
The Legislature last considered fluoridating Hawaii’s water in 1987. The proposal passed the state Senate, but a House panel killed it, saying there wasn’t enough public education on the subject.
Cayetano acknowledged that concerns would be debated again. “I think that when we come forward and do things like this, we have to debate the pros and cons,” he said. “My own feeling is that the time has passed, and our kids don’t have good dental work and we need to take this step.”