Most parents of Kennewick elementary school students aren’t giving their children fluoride supplements, but they want fluoride added to the city’s water supply, according to a new survey.
Parent-teacher groups at five public elementary schools and two private schools agreed to survey parents of students this month in a project started by the Tri-Cities Health Care Task Force. The YMCA also gave the form to parents of students in after-school programs who had not already received the survey.
Eighty-three percent of 645 families responding said they want the Kennewick City Council to add
fluoride to city water to supplement naturally occurring fluoride. Slightly more, 84.6 percent, said they believe adding fluoride to the city drinking water would reduce tooth decay.
“It is unthinkable that a community as educated and affluent as the Tri-Cities does not already fluoridate its water,” wrote one Sunset View Elementary parent on the survey. “The poor children in this area suffer unspeakable pain due to lack of available dental care and nonfluoridated water.”
The Tri-Cities Health Care Task Force is asking council members to accept a grant of about $450,000 to install equipment and begin adding fluoride to city water.
The council heard from opponents of the plan at a workshop earlier this month. Tonight it will hear a presentation from project supporters. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 210 W. Sixth Ave.
Many parents, particularly those who have moved from towns where water is fluoridated, were surprised to learn Kennewick does not fluoridate its water, said parent-teacher organization officers who conducted the survey. Because of the low level of fluoride in Kennewick water, the Benton-Franklin District Health Department recommends children receive daily fluoride pills or drops.
Despite most parents’ belief in the benefits of fluoride, the majority are not giving their children fluoride supplements, according to the survey.
Just 43 percent of parents said they give their children the supplements. That percentage ranged from 37.7 percent of parents at Lincoln Elementary to 53 percent at Cascade and Southgate elementaries.
Even among parents who know they should be giving their children supplements, some do not remember to give the supplements consistently or don’t take the trouble to get them, said Sue Schwartz, co-president of the Southgate Parent Teacher Group.
Of those who were giving supplements, which can be pills, drops or included in prescribed vitamins, some parents were paying an average cost of $6 to $10 a month per family.
However, that turned out to be a difficult question, since some pharmacies and dentists do not charge for the supplements and some health insurers pay for them, said Harry Clemmons, a volunteer with the health care task force.
But when he totaled the money all families reported spending, he came to a cost of about $1,000 a month.
Adding fluoride to Kennewick’s water supply would cost about 50 cents a month per person, said Laurie Ghigleri, a registered dental hygienist and chairwoman of the task force’s subcommittee on dental issues. That comes to about $40 for a lifetime of fluoridated water — less than the cost of a single filling, she said.
Parents who returned surveys saying they opposed fluoridation included comments saying they opposed government intrusion or they believed fluoride is harmful.
Supporters point out that most mainstream medical groups believe fluoridated water is safe and prevents dental decay. They include the American Medical Association, the American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Cancer Society.
The need for fluoridation is acute in Kennewick, Ghigleri said. When she screens second-graders for dental problems, she finds 30 percent to 50 percent of children in Kennewick already have a cavity, many of which go untreated, she said.
Fluoridating water would reduce decay in children’s teeth an average of 65 percent, she said, although some studies cite a greater improvement.
Because children and senior citizens would be among those who benefit most from fluoridation, the health care task force approached parent-teacher groups at all Kennewick public schools and most private schools to do the survey. Some declined, saying the topic was too controversial or the holiday season was too busy to take on the project.
The task force estimates about 30 percent of the parents returned the surveys, after taking into account the number of families with more than one child at each school.
Many of the parent-teacher organizations that agreed to survey parents included a pamphlet from the local health department outlining the benefits of fluoride. While opponents’ information was not included, many of the surveys were sent home about the time media were reporting on the city council presentation against fluoride.
If the council agrees by year’s end to fluoridate the city’s water, the Washington Dental Service Foundation has agreed to pay start-up costs. The foundation also paid the start-up costs to fluoridate Pasco water. Richland city water also lacks optimum levels of fluoride and is not fluoridated.