In the classic Cold War satire “Dr. Strangelove,” Gen. Jack Ripper goes “a little funny in the head” and orders a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.
His reason for attacking?
Fluoridation of water.
Gen. Ripper believes fluoridation of water was a communist plot to pollute Americans’ “precious bodily fluids.”
In a pivotal scene, Gen. Ripper, played brilliantly by Sterling Hayden, explains, “Do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies under way to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk, ice cream? Ice cream, Mandrake? Children’s ice cream! . . . You know when fluoridation began? . . . 1946. 1946. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it?”
Of course, the film was satire and nobody would believe something that ridiculous.
It’s not clear why a lot of York Water Co. customers oppose fluoridation of water. The company polled customers in the past, and a majority didn’t want fluoridated water. The water company declines to speculate on the reasons.
Is it a hold-over from the right-wing conspiracy theories that it’s a communist plot? Is it based on biased studies that have erroneously indicated that fluoride is ineffective in fighting tooth decay and could be harmful? Is it based on simple fear of something new or unknown?
What is known is that reputable studies indicate that fluoridation of water is one of the most effective public health programs in this nation’s history. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – studies conducted with strict scientific methodology that have been reviewed by others in the field – have shown, over and over again, that water fluoridation is a safe and effective means of reducing dental disease.
Numerous studies have confirmed fluoride’s effectiveness in fighting tooth decay. Most recently, a 2006 study by the CDC showed that water fluoridation has decreased the incidence of tooth decay by 29 percent. The report cited communities that had fluoridation and ceased the program, saying tooth decay increased in those communities.
In Pennsylvania, according to the Women, Infants and Children program, children in York County have far higher incidence of dental problems than those in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, both of which have fluoridated water.
The benefits of fluoridation of water are nearly unassailable.
But still, here in York County, there is resistance.
In York County, public health officials and dentists have been lobbying for years to convince York Water Co., which provides water for more than 150,000 people, to fluoridate its water.
It hasn’t happened.
The strongest proponents for fluoridating water are dentists. As local periodontist Dr. Veasey Cullen said, “If you have fluoridated water, dentists are the ones who won’t see the patients as much.” Dentists might lose business, but people will have healthier teeth, and dentists want people to have healthy teeth.
The people who reportedly benefit most from fluoridated water are those without the means to make regular visits to a dentist – people who don’t have dental insurance and can’t afford dental care. In York County, that’s a lot of people.
The human suffering aspect of it aside, economically, it makes sense. Fluoridation of water is a cheap means of reducing the incidence of tooth decay.
State Sen. Mike Waugh, R-Shrewsbury, and state Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-West Manchester, have both expressed support of proposed legislation that would mandate fluoridation of water in Pennsylvania.
That seems like the only way it’ll happen here in the greater York area served by York Water Co.
York Water has said it will fluoridate water if mandated by the government. It shouldn’t take that. The water company board and its investors are the kind of people who are most concerned about York’s image. This stubborn resistance to entering the 21st century on this key public health issue makes York look, well, bad.
It should happen. And it shouldn’t take a state law to make it happen.