Several local dentists and child advocates are pleading with Woodland City Council members to add fluoridation to the city’s water as construction of the Woodland-Davis Surface Water project gets under way.
“Pain, malnutrition, lost days of school and work, and economic loss are a few implications of poor dental health,” wrote Dr. Michael Wilkes, chairman of the Yolo County Health Council and professor of medicine at UC Davis School of Medicine, in a letter of support.
The Yolo County Health Council advises the Board of Supervisors on all aspects of health in the county.
“While there is still much medicine does not understand, water fluoridation is not one of them,” he said.
Throughout California, 277 water districts have opted to fluoridate public water including West Sacramento and the city of Sacramento. It costs West Sacramento families 38 cents per month and Sacramento residents $1.20.
“This started over 60 years ago, and in that time public water fluoridation has significantly reduced tooth decay,” Wilkes said. “Surely, in that time, given the attention focused on this problem, we would have learned if there were to be any risks or harms to the community.”
But public fluoridation has its opponents.
According to the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology based in Florida, the process of water fluoridation — adding 0.7 milligrams of fluoride, in the form of a silicofluoride, per liter of city water — has never been scientifically proven to prevent tooth decay nor been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for systemic use.
Rather, studies have shown that ingesting water containing fluoride has little to no beneficial effect on the teeth, according to the organization, and can contribute or cause systemic problems including discoloration of the teeth (fluorosis) and increased blood lead levels.
The proposed fluoride going in public water is not the same as fluoride found in toothpaste, the organization claims.
“The fluoride in your toothpaste is pharmaceutical grade sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride or sodium monofluorophosphate,” says Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology. “Silicofluorides (used in public water) are highly contaminated hazardous waste by-products of the phosphate fertilizer industry.
“It is important to note that the Environmental Protection Act does not allow this toxic by-product to be dumped in landfills, spewed into air or discarded into our oceans and rivers.”
Other opponents argue that water fluoridation may cause serious health problems, is not effective enough to justify the costs, and has a dosage that cannot be precisely controlled.
During the 1950s and 1960s, some subscribed to the theory that water fluoridation was a communist plot to undermine public health.
The Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology maintains that water fluoridation constitutes a “form of medication imposed on all citizens in uncontrollable doses without informed consent.”
“Despite cries from alarmists and suggestions of conspiracy theories, when used at the recommended levels of 0.7 parts per million there are no harms, dangers or side effects,” said Wilkes. “While significantly higher doses can cause problems, we know that higher doses of other lifesaving drugs like aspirin, antibiotics, and even oxygen can also cause problems. So, care is taken to monitor doses to assure they are safe. This is easily done for fluoride.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization consider water fluoridation one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the past 100 years, he continued.
Water fluoridation is also endorsed by the American Dental Association, American Medical Association and on a local level by Woodland Healthcare, First 5 Yolo, Yolo County Health Department and the Yolo County Commission on Aging, among others.
In Yolo County, just as in many developing nations, tooth decay remains the most common chronic disease of children aged 6 to 11 years (25 percent), and of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years (59 percent), Wilkes explained.
According to data for the 2011-2012 school year, 25 percent of low-income kindergartners in Yolo County screened for dental problems have untreated decay.
Since introducing fluoride in West Sacramento in 2009, rates of dental disease among low income preschoolers and kindergartners have decreased by 10 percent, according to Julie Gallelo, executive director of First 5 Yolo Children & Families Commission.
“It’s time for Woodland to join the rest of the country,” said Woodland resident Carole Pirrucello, chairwoman of the Yolo County Health Council’s water fluoridation sub committee.
Pirrucello, along with three other local dentists, spoke at an April Woodland City Council meeting urging the councilmen to put an item on the agenda concerning the issue — and soon.
“(Fluoridation has) been studied at nauseum for over 60 years with no definitive risk at a safe level,” she said.
Proponents maintain water fluoridation is really a bargain compared with dental treatment costs. Also, installation of the equipment at the new Surface Water intake facility will be less than 1 percent of the project’s total cost, Pirrucello said.
The last time water fluoridation was brought to a vote in Woodland was 1956. The measure failed.
Despite the mass of well-known organizations who do condone the water treatment, it’s likely that the matter will once again be in the hands of Woodland voters.
“We do have an epidemic right now,” said retired dentist and volunteer Dexter Quiggle at the April City Council meeting. “The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have classified childhood caries (tooth decay) as a worldwide epidemic. It’s a communicable disease. … Bottom line, the world ain’t flat, the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth and fluoride does work.”