Oral health program to include fluoride rinses
Nelkens advises ConVal board on dangers of the plan
By Marsha Morrow
Monadnock Ledger Staff
PETERBOROUGH – Hoping to augment a dental hygiene program for area elementary students, sponsors and supporters of an elementary school oral health program laid out a proposal to the ConVal School Board Tuesday night.
The group, in a presentation designed to give the board information only, said its goal is to administer oral fluoride rinses to students in the program, Monadnock Healthy Teeth. Dental hygienist Pam Delahanty said the rinses would be provided weekly for participating students in grades 1-3, emphasizing that the program is optional and requires parental permission. The board has not yet voted on whether to accept the fluoride program.
Delahanty said she would administer the first rinse, but added that the school nurse or a trained member of the school staff would do the follow-up rinses. She said the rinse doesn’t get into the child’s system. “It is topical. It is not taken internally, and we will monitor students closely to make sure no one swallows it,” she said.
The reason Monadnock Healthy Teeth endorses the rinse is because fluoride treatments, supported by the American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control, have been proven to reduce tooth decay, she said.
Using a PowerPoint presentation along with Sadie Jackson, community benefits manager at Monadnock Community Hospital, and Delahanty, Antrim dentist Skip Homicz said cavities are the most common childhood disease, five times more so than asthma. “There’s a population that doesn’t participate in any dental health programs, and this includes 2-5 year olds. This is a big group.”
In New Hampshire, 5.1 percent of all third graders are urgently in need of oral care, the presentation showed.
Cavities lead to abscesses, which cause severe pain. Abscessed teeth interrupt sleep and make eating difficult, Homicz said. The child with an abscessed tooth is more likely to miss school. Severe tooth problems are known to lead to behavior problems and low self-esteem, he added.
“Monadnock Healthy Teeth gets the oral health system in contact with the needy population at a very important time,” Homicz said.
On the other side of the fence, Antrim resident Shelley Nelkens provided some information that countered proponents’ arguments. Turning to Homicz, she said that the dentist had “testified at the State House that he wanted every town in this state fluoridated.”
Her handout, a compilation of questions and answers, said among other things that fluoride is a cumulative poison known to predispose teeth to cracking and crumbling over time.
Studies have linked fluoride to cancer, genetic damage and bone and nerve disorders her information states. Though dentists prescribe fluoride supplements, they have never been approved for safety or effectiveness, the information said.
“One liter of fluoridated water contains one milligram of fluoride,” she said. “One dose of rinse contains 20 milligrams of fluoride.”
She read testimonies from several sources, one from dentist David Kennedy, president of the Preventive Dental Health Association in California, who reportedly stated: “Giving a child a mouthful of a very potent but delicious poison and telling them not to swallow is just as insane as giving a child a loaded gun and explaining very carefully not to pull the trigger.”
The PowerPoint presentation showed a picture of teeth blackened in spots by decay. Homicz was trying to show that children who don’t get dental care early enough end up with teeth like these. In response, Nelkens said the black holes are really called “baby bottle” teeth and are caused by sticking bottles of milk or juice into a baby’s mouth and leaving them there.
The School Board’s newest member, William McKinnon of Antrim, who said he had talked with her and had looked at information on the internet, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control, supported Nelkens. “I think the parents should see the information,” he said. “I think that there is information about fluoride that should be presented to the parents.”
The quantity of fluoride in the rinse is far below the level that would deem the exposure as poisonous , said Delahanty. Jackson yesterday sent a fax from Maine Medical Center’s Northern New England Poison Center, which stated that a 40-poound child would have to swallow 16 or more of 10-milliliter containers to ingest an amount considered to be poisonous enough for emergency room treatment. “Unless children have access to a large number of containers, toxicity is unlikely to occur from one-time ingestion of this product,” the center’s information added.
Monadnock Healthy Teeth, now in its second year, provides a school-based tooth care program for qualifying children at elementary schools in Peterborough, Greenville, Francestown and Antrim. Said Jackson, Peterborough Elementary School was used as a pilot school when the program was launched.
In selecting schools, the Monadnock Healthy Teeth coordinators look at the number of students who qualify for free and reduces lunches. School staff recommends students.
Next year, the program, sponsored by Monadnock Community Hospital and local dentists, will extend all elementary schools in ConVal, Conant and Mascenic districts.
In addition to screening, cleaning and the optional topical fluoride treatments, Monadnock Healthy Teeth provides one-to-one and classroom education on oral health and refers children who need additional treatments to a dentist. “The school administration and dental community have given tremendous support to the program,” said Jackson. “Monadnock Healthy Teeth could not be in the schools, using classroom time if it were not for them.”