To the surprise of many area residents, the state Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would require cities of 5,000 or more to add fluoride to their municipal water systems.
Although the bill was sponsored by Little Rock Democratic Sen. David Johnson, it will affect folks in this part of the state more than any other because Fort Smith’s water system is the largest in the state not already fluoridating water.
Fort Smith voters have turned down fluoridation twice in popular votes, in the 1970s and in 1992 — nearly 20 years ago.
Dr. Robert Mason, a Fort Smith dentist, testified in Little Rock that 65 years of research and use of dental fluoride have proven it is safe and effective in reducing cavities, according to an Arkansas News Bureau report last week.
If you do a Google search for fluoride, you will find plenty of alarming headlines. Even the World Health Organization acknowledges that too much fluoride, which occurs naturally in all groundwater, can cause problems that range from the cosmetic to the skeletal. But over-consumption of fluoride is largely a problem in the developing world, especially in tropical and subtropical countries, where rock processing or aluminum smelting is done, or where fluoride-rich coal is used in cooking.
In our neck of the woods, fluoride overdose is largely limited to children who eat large amounts of toothpaste.
Despite what some scare-mongers will say, the American Dental Association supports the fluoridation as “safe, effective and necessary in preventing tooth decay.” That is the position it has held since 1950.
In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed municipal water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Although much of the benefit of fluoridation is seen in children, it has effects for adults, too. Surgeon David Sacher in 2000 wrote that “Community water fluoridation is safe and effective in preventing dental caries in both children and adults. Water fluoridation benefits all residents served by community water supplies regardless of their social or economic status.”
Those of us old enough to remember cavities remember that they hurt, that they are expensive to fix and that unfixed they can have serious and expensive long-term health consequences.
In its 2004 presentation to the Arkansas Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor, the ADA told lawmakers that the cost-per-person of municipal fluoridation is less than the cost of one dental filling. It is economical also because the cost of treating dental disease is often “paid by the public through services provided by health departments, welfare clinics, health insurance premiums, the military and other publicly supported programs.”
It is time to clear the fog of misinformation about fluoride and get back to the simple reality. Municipal water fluoridation is simple, safe, effective and economical.
Like many things, fluoride can be dangerous in high doses. That’s not what we are talking about here. This bill speaks to carefully monitored additions to the fluoride already naturally occurring in our water.
And as state Sen. Percy Malone, D-Arkadelphia, said Thursday, dental health is a public health issue.
Local Sens. Jake Files, Bruce Holland and Ruth Whitaker, all Republicans, voted for fluoridation, and we thank them for that reasoned stance.
Next the House will consider fluoridation. We hope local representatives will show similar reason and courage in their votes.