BENNINGTON – The Bennington Oral Health Coalition has officially withdrawn its recommendation to add fluoride to the town’s drinking water, but wants to be made an action committee so it can work to improve the town’s oral health.
No decisions were made at the Select Board meeting Monday when this was discussed, but it was announced that the coalition will be hosting a meeting on April 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bennington Fire Facility for the community to discuss oral health improvement strategies besides fluoride.
Voters shot down Article 15 at this year’s Town Meeting Day, which asked if they would support increasing the level of fluoride in the water system to improve oral health. It was an extremely contentious issue with debates raging in different forums since December. The issue has been brought up in decades past and voters have routinely rejected fluoride being added to the water.
Board Chairman Greg Van Houten said the board received a letter from the coalition asking to be made a sub-committee of the Bennington Board of Health, which is the same board as the select board, as well as an action committee.
The letter also announced the April 22 meeting, and gave the RSVP number of 802-447-3700 or the email firstname.lastname@example.org for anyone who wishes to attend and share ideas on how to address Bennington’s oral health problems.
Van Houten said he agrees that the coalition should be granted the committee statuses it seeks, saying the oral health problems in the community, especially at the school level, need to be addressed.
Board member Tom Jacobs said he would be uncomfortable establishing a committee without first outlining its abilities and goals.
Van Houten agreed, saying it’s typically board policy to wait until a follow-up meeting before acting, but since he will no longer be chairman, or on the board, after this meeting he wanted to make his opinion known.
Charles Gingo, a member of the Bennington Oral Health Coalition, said the group already has a number of ideas for improving oral health besides fluoride, among them organizing volunteers to drive people to free dental clinic days, or to dental clinics in Massachusetts. Educational campaigns can also be launched in schools and he suggested the board get the Bennington School District board in on the discussion as well.
He said during the fluoride debates most agreed there was an oral health problem in town that needed to be addressed in some fashion.
Marylou Albert, a vocal opponent of the fluoride measure, said no one was against improving oral health, but to that end the problem needs to be better identified so a baseline can be established. Without it there would be no way to tell if any efforts taken were working.
She said better access to dental services would be one way to help matters. There are bills in the legislature now that if passed would create a mid-level dental service provider position, letting dental hygienists perform some of the same services as dentists. More could be done to allow dentists to accept more patients on Medicaid.