Support is building for an initiative to add fluoride to almost all drinking water in Pennsylvania, with proponents billing it as a safe and effective way to improve dental health across the state.
Though some are suspicious of adding any chemicals to public water supplies, widespread scientific consensus supports the belief that adding fluoride to water helps prevent tooth decay in the general population.
“Regardless of your income, where you live, what kind of background you have, if the water supply is fluoridated, we’re all getting the same access,” said Rob Pugliese, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Dental Association.
Similar endorsements of water fluoridation have been made by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Dental Association and the World Health Organization.
With that in mind, state Rep. Stephen Barrar (R-Chester) introduced legislation calling for water fluoridation at the beginning of the year. The legislation would require all water systems with 500 or more customers to add fluoride to the supply.
It already passed the House Health and Human Services Committee by a 28-1 margin in June and is currently sitting before the House Appropriations Committee.
Mr. Barrar, in a phone interview yesterday, said he hoped to have the bill ready for passage by December. He said he was positive he had the votes to secure passage, though he expressed some concern that other lawmakers would try and weaken the bill before passage.
“I think it’s good public health policy,” he said. “The state is picking up more and more of the cost of dental care for low-income children, so there’s immediate savings there.”
Those potential savings are huge. It costs only 50 cents to $3 per person annually to fluoridate water supplies. Every dollar invested, Mr. Pugliese said, saves $38 in dental care. The association is supporting the bill even though it is likely to decrease dental business.
“Our first mission is to make sure everybody has the best oral health care they can have,” he said. “This’ll do wonders in reducing decay.”
Fluoride is said to strengthen tooth enamel, making it harder and more resistant to acids that cause decay. About half of state residents get fluoridated water. In Philadelphia, fluoride is added to the water supply to reach a level recommended by the American Dental Association, the city’s Water Department says.
If the legislation passes the General Assembly, all signs point to Gov. Ed Rendell signing it into law. Howard Tolchinksy, the state’s public health dentist, has voiced his support for the measure.
“It’s an effective public health measure to reduce cavities,” he said. “I think it’s been proven it reduces the cavity levels in the population that consumes that water.”
©The Evening Bulletin 2007