Citing that almost 40 percent of Mississippi children in the third-grade go untreated for tooth decay, a health department official says more prevention is needed – starting at the tap.
Fluoridated water is pumped into 52 percent of the public water systems throughout Mississippi, but more participation is needed, said John Justice, fluoridation administrator for the state Department of Health.
“Our mission is to protect and promote oral health of all Mississippians,” Justice said. “The best way to do that is with the water fluoridation program.”
The Prairie Land Water Association in Lowndes County is the most recent facility to complete the fluoridation program.
In Hinds and Madison counties, 92 percent of the population receive fluoridated water. Only 63 percent of Rankin County residents receive fluoridated water. That percentage will change, however, when the small Rankin County town of Puckett joins the list of communities with a fluoridated water system.
Fluoride bonds with the calcium in teeth and repairs and prevents decay, Justice said.
“It’s the single most effective method to prevent decay,” he said.
The start-up cost of a fluoridated water system has been an obstacle for many water associations, Justice said, but now those costs are covered with a local grant and federal funds.
Start-up expenses can range from $10,000 to $150,000, depending on the condition of the facility, and include equipment, engineers to oversee the design of the system, operator training and fluoride.
The Bower Foundation of Ridgeland, a nonprofit health-promotion organization, provides grants covering 60 percent of the cost. Federal funds cover the remaining expenses.
Anne Travis, CEO of the foundation, said it’s the Health Department’s responsibility to promote the program, identify communities interested in becoming fluoridated and assisting them in the process of developing engineering plans, determining what modifications are needed and providing oversight to the process.
The Health Department recruits water systems serving nearly 1,000 people, Justice said. The decision to fluoridate is made by the city council, board of aldermen or board of directors.
The grant program began July 1, 2003, and has provided about $409,000 to 37 water systems.
The implementation process can be completed in less than a year, Justice said.
“I don’t think we’ll ever have enough dentists to meet the needs of Mississippi,” Travis said. “If we can do this prevention to ensure strong teeth, it’s money well spent.”
After implementation, costs for the treatment range from 50 cents to $3 per person annually, Justice said.
“Water fluoridation prevents 20 (to) 40 percent of tooth decay even when you take into consideration fluoridated toothpaste and other sources,” said Nick Mosca, dental director for the health department.
Water fluoridation minimizes the complexity and severity of tooth decay and is supported by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Mosca said.
“I can’t think of a reason not to do it,” Mosca said.
Mosca said there is no credible scientific evidence of danger in ingesting fluoride.
Prairie Land Water Association began distributing fluoridated water to its customers in April.
Before proceeding, the association asked for feedback from residents, general manager Daniel Rayfield said.
“We sent out notification letters to association members to advise them of our intent and inform them of a public meeting to hear their concerns, but nobody showed up,” Rayfield said.
Rayfield said he also has not heard any comments since the new system started.
Sunrise Utilities, which serves an area near Petal, is installing a fluoridation system. The water system decided to pursue the project after receiving numerous phone calls from residents inquiring about whether the water already was fluoridated, office manager Jan Mungo said.
Mungo said the company hadn’t advertised its decision to fluoridate, and she doesn’t think the public knows.
“We’ll probably give them notice on their water bill once we start fluoridating,” she said.