CARSON CITY — Since 1989, the Governor’s Maternal and Child Health Advisory Board has pushed the idea that Nevada’s water supplies be fluoridated to prevent tooth decay, especially in children.
Now the board has an ally in Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, who will sponsor a bill in the 1997 Legislature requiring fluoridation in all public water systems in Nevada.
Giunchigliani said she was surprised to learn that most water systems in Nevada don’t have fluoridation treatment.
“I’m trying to deal with prevention and cost,” said Giunchigliani, who added that a fluoride treatment at the dentist costs between $15 and $30.
With a growing number of indigent and uninsured who can’t afford dental visits, Giunchigliani said the fluoride supplement to the water is the same as immunization of children.
Nevada law requires approval by a public vote before any community can start treating its water, but Luana Ritch, public health education and information officer for the state Health Division, said it’s difficult getting fluoridation on ballots.
About six years ago, a drive started in Washoe County to get a public vote, but the county commission declined to put the issue on the ballot after stiff opposition, Ritch said.
Less than 2 percent of the water systems in the state are fluoridated, Ritch said, and most of those are on military bases or on Indian reservations.
A 1992 study by Cristman Associates of Las Vegas found 67 percent of the children examined experienced dental decay. The U.S. Public Health Services says for every dollar spent on community water fluoridation, more than $50 in savings in dental care results.
The issue was addressed in February this year at a state Board of Health meeting. Alan Tinney, acting bureau chief of Public Health Engineering, said every water supply contains fluoride but below the recommended the 0.7 milligrams per liter.
Tinney said courts in 10 states have struck down objections to fluoridation of public water systems. Arguments range from a parent’s right to safeguard the health of their children as they please; the right to be free of medical experiments; the right to privacy and to be free of interference with religious beliefs.
In rural Nevada, public health nurses have fluoride supplements to pass out to youngsters, and parents can buy tablets, drops or lozenges as an alternative to water fluoridation.
The Cristman Associates report recommends the use of supplements begin as soon as possible after birth, and be continued daily until the child is at least 13 years old.
Fluoride is an ion that strengthens dental enamel. In the history of public health, Ritch said, the two most effective preventive measures have been immunization and water fluoridation.
Giunchigliani said the prevention measure would drive health costs down. And if the state mandates it, it should pay — not the local governments. Right now, she is gathering information on the possible cost.
“This works and has proven effective and it’s no different than immunization for school-age children,” Giunchigliani said.