For my last newspaper column as health officer in El Dorado County, I would like you to consider supporting one small change that could do a world of good for the health of our community.
That small change is fluoridation of our drinking water. Currently none of the water systems in El Dorado County adjusts the level of fluoride in drinking water to optimize protection against tooth decay.
I think that’s a shame, because water fluoridation is a cheap, safe and very effective way to help children and adults avoid the pain and expense of serious dental problems.
Thousands of scientific studies offer convincing proof that community water fluoridation works. People who live in communities where water is fluoridated have between 30 percent and 60 percent fewer cavities and other problems with tooth decay than people living in communities without fluoridation.
They enjoy this benefit at a cost of less than one dollar per person per year, in larger water systems.
It’s no wonder that former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop has called fluoridation of drinking water “the single most important thing a community can do to improve its oral health.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also recognized fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Two-thirds of American households currently receive fluoridated water, including those served by 43 of the 50 largest drinking water systems in the country. In recent years fluoridation has been expanding rapidly in Southern California and also in Sacramento.
Thanks to a dentist-led initiative, more than three-quarters of young children in Sacramento County will live within a fluoridated water district by 2010.
I say that El Dorado County families deserve the benefits of fluoridated water too.
Tooth decay is a significant health problem in our county. A recent study of El Dorado County children attending Head Start found that 28 percent needed immediate dental care. A full 5 percent of the children had never seen a dentist before.
Untreated oral health problems cause severe discomfort, impair educational attainment and drain a family’s financial resources. Among the county’s children, tooth decay is by far the leading chronic disease in terms of prevalence and cost.
Fluoride tablets and fluoride tooth varnishes are helpful — and may be the only solution for people living in small water districts or on wells — but they are not nearly as effective as communitywide water fluoridation, especially for disadvantaged groups.
Better access to preventive dental care would also help, but such care can be expensive without private insurance. In our county, only a few private dentists accept payment from public sources or perform charity services for families unable to pay.
The good news is that most of the suffering and wasted expenditure on preventable tooth decay could be avoided if local community water suppliers simply added trace amounts of fluoride to our drinking water. Every dollar invested in fluoridation would save the community about $140 in dental costs, including the costs that taxpayers are paying now for California’s DentiCal program.
Some people have concerns about the safety of fluoridation. It’s true that too much fluoride can be harmful to teeth, especially for infants. But when fluoride is added to water at just the right level the evidence comes down overwhelmingly in favor of safety.
All water contains some fluoride naturally, including the water we drink in El Dorado County. Fluoridation would merely adjust the fluoride content to the recommended level so that everyone could enjoy optimal dental health.
As I prepare to leave El Dorado County, it is my hope that a group of health professionals and other community-minded residents will come together and champion the cause of fluoridation.
If you believe in this cause, you might consider organizing public meetings, speaking with local politicians and water district board members, or sending letters to the editors of local newspapers. You could also speak to your friends and neighbors about this issue.
A community with bright, healthy smiles would be a lasting legacy you could be proud of.