It’s been a marathon effort to improve children’s health in Silicon Valley, but the finish line is in sight. A key vote is coming next week to finally have the Santa Clara Valley Water District fluoridate the water it supplies to much of Santa Clara County — including most of San Jose, now the largest city in America whose residents don’t all have fluoridated water.
All that remains is final approval for the district to spend $4.2 million toward the $6.6 million project. It’s a pittance in a $300 million budget, but it’s not a sure thing — even though private sources, led by the Health Trust, have scrounged together $2.4 million for the project. That’s an extraordinary commitment toward something public agencies generally pay for.
The water board’s committee on fluoride will meet at 1 p.m. Monday to decide whether to recommend that the board spend the $4.2 million. A unanimous vote would improve the chances that the full board will agree.
Two of the three committee members, Linda LeZotte and Tony Estremera, are expected to say yes, but conservative Don Gage is a question mark.
Gage was elected mayor of Gilroy last week and will leave the board this month. It’s hard to create a real legacy in two years’ service, but it would be terrific to go out with a statement on the importance of children’s health, which is what fluoride will improve. And there is popular support. A poll by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department found that 13 percent of Santa Clara County residents oppose fluoridation.
A vocal minority across the country argues that fluoridating water is poisoning the populace. This is hogwash. The American Medical Association, the California Department of Health and the American Dental Association all strongly support fluoridation. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it one of the top 10 public health advances of the 20th century.
An American Dental Association study found that fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 20 to 40 percent. The Centers for Disease Control reports that every $1 dollar invested in fluoridating drinking water saves $38 in future health care costs.
Santa Clara County is under tremendous pressure to reduce those costs. Its public health officer, Dr. Martin Fenstersheib, is one of the leading proponents of fluoridation.
San Jose does fluoridate water in its municipal system, but that serves only Evergreen and a few other areas. The rest of the city and much of the county need to emerge from the Dark Ages of preventive dental health — particularly poor neighborhoods where kids may not get regular checkups. Nothing holds children back in school like a toothache.
County health advocates are leading this fight and putting up a third of the money. The Santa Clara Valley Water District Board needs to do the rest.