The Muskegon County Health Department wants children to have healthy teeth, and is going into local elementary schools with a voluntary fluoride rinse program to help that happen.
On a weekly basis students in Ealy and Shoreline elementary schools in Whitehall, and Oehrli Elementary School in neighboring Montague are rinsing their mouth with a fluoride solution to help harden the enamel on their teeth which statistically can help prevent tooth decay.
The effect of fluoride treatment in preventing cavities is so significant the health department would like the Montague and Whitehall cities to consider adding fluoride in their municipal water systems so all customers will get the benefit.
Jackie Balcom, dental health coordinator with the county health department, said the rinse program has proven to reduce the incidence of dental decay in students who participated by 35 percent.
The health department would like to inform the two communities on the benefits of fluoride treatments, and other children’s dental health issues at forums scheduled for this Thursday (Feb. 21) and Feb. 28. This Thursday the forum will be at Whitehall City Hall, and next Thursday (Feb. 28) it will be at Montague City Hall. Both forums begin at 7 p.m.
The forums will have a presentation by a health department representative. That presentation will include information on the benefits of water fluoridation, the fluoride rinse program, how pop drinking by teens is causing skyrocketing dental decay rates, about future sealant programs in the schools, and about Baby Bottle Tooth Decay which affects toddlers ages 1-3.
Local dentists will be at the forums as well as representatives from the cities who have information on the water systems.
Discussion by the audience will be encouraged.
Free toothbrushes and coloring books will be available to children. There will be pictures of students in the fluoride rinse program, as well as pictures of toddlers suffering from Baby Bottle Tooth Decay.
Balcom said the health department has introduced the fluoride rinse program in schools that are located where there is water systems which do not have fluoride added. In addition to Whitehall and Montague, those schools include Oakridge and Holton.
In the dental rinse program, students whose parents voluntarily register them, weekly rinse their mouth for a minute with a two percent fluoride rinse (one tablespoon of a dilute fluoride rinse). The rinse is flavored bubble gum, grape or root beer.
At Ealy Elementary School, the fourth through sixth graders rinse their mouths under the supervision of parent volunteers while in the hallway outside their classrooms. At Shoreline, volunteers prepare the rinse. Teachers in grades one through three administer the rinse when time allows.
This year a $2 charge per student has been levied to cover costs of the program because, Balcom said, the health department did not receive a grant which funded the program in the past. Students who can’t afford the two dollars can still get the rinse.
Both Whitehall and Montague, in the past, have turned down efforts to add fluoride to the water.
In Whitehall, voters said no to fluoridation in the early 1970s. In Montague, the city council turned down fluoridation in 1973.
Because voters turned it down, Jim Vedders, director of Public Works for the City of Whitehall, said a renewed effort for fluoridation would have to go to an election.
The local water systems do have some naturally occurring fluoride in the water system.
Balcom said the optimum level of fluoride in water to harden the tooth enamel is one part per million (one pound of fluoride per one million pounds of water).
Vedders said the Whitehall water currently has naturally occurring fluoride of one-tenth of a part per million.
To add fluoride to the water, Vedders said an HFS acid solution would be added into the water to the appropriate level at each well using a metered pump.
He said the city would have to be licensed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for the process, and it would have to be supervised by licensed operators.
Currently, the city adds chlorine to the water as a disinfectant.
Whitehall, Vedders said, has about 1,300 customers on its water system.
In Montague, the city water has naturally occurring fluoride at a half part per million. That’s half of the optimum level.
Tom Kroll, superintendent of the Public Works Department in Montague, said the higher level of naturally occurring fluoride may be the reason the council turned down adding fluoride. “We were halfway there.”
Montague has approximately 900 water services, Kroll said.
West Michigan was a part of the introduction of water fluoridation into municipal systems which has been called one of the most successful experiments in the history of public health.
In 1945 the City of Grand Rapids water system was fluoridated as part of a 10 year study. The unfluoridated City of Muskegon was the control for the study because the two cities both receive their water from Lake Michigan. The results of the study were so convincing that after eight years the City of Muskegon withdrew from the study and began fluoridating its water.
In Muskegon County, Montague and Whitehall are the only municipal systems without fluoridation. Systems with fluoridation are the City of Muskegon, City of Muskegon Heights and the Village of Ravenna.