GRAND ISLAND — A five-foot tall, papier-mâché molar depicted as flexing his muscles is helping to serve as the mouthpiece of fluoridating municipal water supplies.
Max the Molar has made the junket through summer parades and festivals in Central Nebraska. He’s currently brushing up at the Central District Health Department in preparation for Saturday’s Harvest of Harmony Parade in Grand Island.
Max is short for “maxillary,” which is an upper jaw molar. He’ll be rooted in a pickup to make the trek through the parade route while his staffers hand out toothpaste and toothbrushes.
Central District Health Department Executive Director Teresa Anderson supports the Legislature’s mandate for cities and towns of more than 1,000 people to fluoridate water supplies by 2010.
“It reaches everybody. There’s nobody who can’t afford to have drinking water,” Anderson said. “It’s non-discriminatory. It doesn’t care if you’re black or white or old or young or rich or poor. Fluoride will get to you. That’s the beauty of it.”
But the Legislature also gave an opt out. Local voters can override the mandate and skip fluoridation. Grand Island and Hastings are among cities that have fluoride votes scheduled for the Nov. 4 general election.
“Our main reason for endorsing and supporting the fluoridation of public water is that it’s safe, it’s effective and it’s an inexpensive way to control health care costs,” Anderson said.
It costs more to fill one child’s cavity then it does to pay to fluoridate that child’s water supply for a lifetime, Anderson said.
It’s a meaningful economic savings — particularly to taxpayers when considering the costs of Medicaid, she said.
“We can save $38 for every $1 we put into fluoridation,” Anderson said.
Fluoridation has been proven safe for more than 60 years by the Centers for Disease Control and about 70 percent of the United States population drinks fluoridated water, she said.
All the military bases in the U.S. and overseas have fluoridated water, which is seen as an important way to ensure the health of soldiers, Anderson said.
Grand Island has naturally-occurring fluoride of 0.67 parts per million and would receive an additive up to 1.0 parts per million.
“How much is that? If you fill a bathtub completely up with water and then take an eyedropper and drop one drop in the bathtub, that’s how much fluoride we need to protect our teeth,” Anderson said.
“The deal with fluoride is it bathes your mouth when you take a sip of water and the fluoride is retained around the teeth, which protects them and keeps them from demineralizing and actually helps them to remineralize,” she said.
Cavities are caused when the outer surface of the teeth is broken away and allows cavities to form. Fluoridation helps prevent that when consumed by anyone, Anderson said.
“That’s the other really good thing about fluoride in a municipal water system — it reaches and has a positive effect on everybody who drinks it,” young or old, she said.
Anderson said about 20 percent of people 65 and older have dentures, meaning their teeth are gone.
“All of their teeth are gone and it’s not only because they didn’t have fluoride as children, but they aren’t getting it as an adult,” Anderson said.
When people have access to fluoridated water, they don’t need the fluoride supplements, Anderson said. But it’s still important to brush with fluoride toothpaste two times a day.
Fluoride toothpaste has a warning to not consume the fluoride, but that’s a much stronger concentration than what is in fluoridated drinking water, she said.
Fluoride is also present in other food sources and beverages, Anderson said, but an overdose is highly unlikely. Too much would be about 4 milligrams a day, Anderson said.
“If you were going to overdose on fluoride simply through the water, you would have to drink somewhere between 80 and 200 gallons of water at one time,” she said.
While the Health Department can’t tell voters how to vote, it can help provide factual and reliable information on the subject, Anderson said.
The Health Department has three brochures — “Fluoride and Your Family,” “Community Water Fluoridation” and “Keep Your Baby Smiling,” available at its offices. The Grand Island office is at 1137 S. Locust St. and the Central City office is located in the Merrick County Courthouse at 1510 18th St.
Other online resources include the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention Web site at cdc.gov. Check for oral health and fluoridation. Others are the American Dental Association Web site at ADA.org.
“It’s important to keep our public healthy,” Anderson said.