By Coalition of Communities of Color in Portland, Oregon. By Gerald Delany (SEI, Co-Chair), Carmen Rubio (Latino Network, Co-Chair), Lee Po Cha (IRCO), Matt Morton (NAYA) and Joseph Santos-Lyons (APANO).
In a typical Oregon third grade classroom of 25 kids, at least eight have untreated dental decay and five of those students have seven or more decaying teeth. If that’s not enough to make your mouth hurt, consider that children from low-income and communities of color, and especially immigrants and refugees, have two to three times more dental decay. Clearly, we are in a crisis and so we’ve joined the Everyone Deserves Healthy Teeth coalition to call on our policymakers enact water fluoridation. Its about time.
For a city that values equity and justice, we can no longer turn our backs on the disparities and lifelong health, education and economic consequences. Fluoridated water is the right answer we need to improve dental health for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin or income.
This is about more than “just” a toothache or a cavity. Untreated dental decay contributes to a host of health problems including ear and sinus infections, the ability to eat nutritious foods, and heart disease. It is also a major barrier to education and a driver of school dropout because kids, particularly the 1 in 5 with rampant decay, are in pain and miss school or can’t concentrate when they’re there.
Preventative fluoride saves us the cost of expensive medical treatment. For families struggling to make ends meet, the cost of going to dentist, combined with cultural and language barriers, can keep them from seeking help until the problem is severe. As a result, more children are having multiple fillings or root canals in the emergency room.
Some people ask why we don’t just improve those school programs, teach better dental hygiene, or find another way to help those most in need. There are three problems that underline why universal access to fluoride is important: we’re already doing those things and we still have a dental health crisis, no matter how well parents care for their children’s teeth they still need the added protection of fluoride, and fluoridated water is by far the most affordable solution.
We know that fluoride improves our dental and general health.
Studies have shown that fluoridated water reduces dental decay by 25 percent. Children, whose adult teeth can erupt with decay, benefit. Pregnant women, whose gums are more prone to disease, benefit. Older adults, who often take medications that dry their mouth and lead to decay, benefit. Fluoridation is a public health benefit for the all our communities, and at the same time is part of the solution to the serious racial and economic dental decay disparities we face.
Over 60 years of scientific and health evidence shows that fluoridated water is safe for people and our environment. More than 200 million people across the U.S. drink it every day including in places like Beaverton, Vancouver, Salem, and Corvallis. It’s time to stop depriving Portlanders of this basic benefit.
We urge our Mayor and Portland City Council to adopt fluoridation as a matter of equity, and we oppose a voter referral as expensive and unnecessary.