Talk about penny-wise and pound-foolish. Some Alabama water systems have stopped adding fluoride to their water in an effort to cut costs.
This is textbook false economy, for the documented benefits of fluoridated water vastly outweigh any modest cost savings gained by eliminating it.
As the Advertiser’s Markeshia Ricks reported, 18 water systems in the state have discontinued fluoridation. It’s a really bad idea. (Actually, 27 systems had stopped, but nine wisely resumed.)
There is no state mandate for fluoridation, as there is in some other states, so individual water systems decide for themselves whether to add fluoride to their water. It is one of the most sensible investments in public health that can be made; in fact, water fluoridation was cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century.
The implications of eliminating fluoridation are significant. Fluoridated water dramatically reduces tooth decay, but this is not just about pretty smiles. Good oral health contributes to good overall health. For those without ready access to dental care, fluoridated water provides an especially important measure of protection.
Dr. John Thornton of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry, noted that people with dental problems also have higher rates of heart problems, stroke and premature delivery.
For children, the problems are no less significant. “If we start losing the fluoridation that we already have in the state and around the country, we’re going to start regressing,” he said. “We might not regress to those pre-fluoridation days, but I believe we are going to see more and more children with abscessed teeth, and more children going to school with toothaches and not being able to concentrate or eat.”
Dr. Don Williamson, the state health officer, recently told the State Committee on Public Health that he fears Alabama could be “losing the battle on fluoridation.” About one-sixth of the state’s population is without fluoridated water now, which is troubling enough. If that number grows, the longer-term consequences are disturbing to contemplate.
The cost of fluoridation — estimated at about $1 per person per year by Sherry Goode, interim director for oral care at the Department of Public Health — is well worth paying, even if it requires an adjustment in water rates. To stop fluoridation as a cost-savings move is terribly shortsighted.