After 10 years of lobbying, the USC School of Dentistry helped convince the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to increase the levels of fluoride in the water supplied to more than 18 million Angelenos and other Southern California residents.
The change, implemented Oct. 28, brings Los Angeles water fluoride levels on par with the majority of the country’s water supply and is intended to prevent tooth decay.
The MWD increased the fluoride levels in the water it supplies to Los Angeles and other Southern California cities from between 0.1 and 0.4 parts per million to between 0.7 and 0.8 parts per million.
The new level of fluoride is considered to be the optimal amount for dental health by both the California Department of Public Health and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tim Collins, dental director for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.
Five new water plants, costing a total of $5.5 million, will be ready for use within the next couple of weeks, Collins said.
DENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS
Increasing the fluoride levels of many Southern California cities’ water is a victory for residents because the new concentrations in the local water is expected to significantly reduce cavities, Collins said.
Charles Goldstein, a USC dentistry professor, said every legitimate health association in the United States supports increased fluoride levels in public water.
“[Fluoride] saves more teeth than all the dentists in the world combined. It really does,” he said.
This public health measure is expected to have a favorable cost-benefit ratio for all citizens. For every dollar spent in fluoridation, about $30 in dental care is saved, said Eugene Sekiguchi, an associate dean of international, professional and legislative affairs in the USC School of Dentistry.
“The most important step a community can take to ensure the oral health of its residents is public-water fluoridation,” Collins said.
The new levels of fluoride will most likely not be noticed because it does not affect taste or smell or any other properties of water because the amount of fluoride being used is so small. It is amazing it even has an effect at all, Sekiguchi said.
Though some citizens are still apprehensive about the increase, saying fluoride taints the water supply, Goldstein said the fluoride in the water is a much weaker solution than that used in an average dentist visit.
“The stuff that’s in the water is 0.8 parts per million. The amount a dentist puts on topically is more fluoride than one would have gotten over 10 years from the water,” he said. “It’s a matter of understanding.”
Samantha Klein, a freshman majoring in fine arts, thinks that the increased level of fluoride in Los Angeles County’s water is a good idea.
“Fluoride help prevents tooth decay, and as long as I can’t taste a change in the water I’m using, then I think that the increased levels of fluoride will be beneficial to all citizens in the surrounding area,” she said.
But Whitney Heil, a sophomore majoring in communication, said the new system hinders people from making their own decisions on whether they want to use fluoride.
“I understand why they are doing it, but I do not think it is fair to contaminate all the water with fluoride. What about the people that don’t particularly care for this increase of fluoride in their water? What are they suppose to drink?” she said.
RISING IN THE RANKINGS
Of the 50 most populated cities nationwide, 43 are fluoridated. With the recent fluoride increase, California, which was previously ranked 47th in fluoridation levels, will move up to around the 15th most fluoridated state in the nation, Sekiguchi said.
Before the change in fluoridation levels, California was only 17 percent fluoridated, while 65 percent of the rest of the country’s water was fluoridated. Because California is considered an advanced state in terms of health care, dental advocacy groups came together and formed a coalition called the California Fluoridation Task Force, later renamed the California Dental Association’s Fluoridation Advisory Council, Collins said.
USC has played a prominent role in a statewide alliance made up of oral health experts that has lobbied state and local legislators to increase fluoridation levels in municipal water supplies. Members of this coalition included Goldstein and Collins, Sekiguchi said.
From this coalition, a subagency called the California Fluoridation 2010 Work Group was formed. The group, whose goal was to find money to implement fluoridation in Southern California, is separate from the advisory council but many of the same people are members of both.
The Work Group was able to obtain a $15 million grant from the California Endowment to support fluoridation.
In 1995, state legislators passed a bill to fluoridate all of the state’s water without any financial support, Collins said.
The MWD believed the hardest part, on top of the issue of funds, was actually putting the fluoride into the water.
“It wasn’t a matter of time, it was a matter of integrating the fluoride into the system,” said Bob Muir, a spokesman for MWD, when asked why it took 10 years to put the system into effect. “The amount of fluoride is now the same for every place in Los Angeles.”
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