The young boy had been admitted to the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington with a 102-degree fever that wouldn’t quit.
Four days later, hospital doctors still couldn’t figure out what was causing it.
“First, they thought it might be appendicitis, but it wasn’t, and nobody could figure it out,” Dr. Justin Salem said. “Finally, they had the kid open his mouth.”
That’s where the problem was: a tooth so infected it had caused bacteremia, or infiltration of bacteria from the bad tooth into the child’s bloodstream.
If incidents like this were a rarity, that would be one thing.
According to Salem, a dentist, they’re not. He cited the high frequency at which the local hospital operates on children with rotten teeth and a state study that gave area high school students bad scores on tooth decay.
“We have a severe dental problem in this town among our kids,” he said.
Say hello to Ground Zero in the ongoing war of words about the good and bad of fluoridation.
For decades, putting fluoride in public water systems to reduce tooth decay was akin to motherhood and apple pie in this country. Burlington and 43 other Vermont communities have long had fluoridated water systems.
Bennington was one of those places that never did. Salem, along with retired dentist Michael Brady, thinks it’s about time the town caught up with reality.
Unfortunately, that’s not so easy. Fluoridation has its critics now, and one of them is Bennington resident Linda Crawford. A nurse, she is head of Bennington Citizens Against Fluoridated Water and claims she is personally allergic to fluoride.
Experts cited by Crawford say the kind of fluoride used in water systems is actually an industrial waste byproduct of fertilizer manufacturing. Plus, it can’t be excreted by humans and is harmful to them over time.
How so? Crawford cited findings by St. Lawrence University Professor Paul Connett that claim fluoride causes brittle bones among the elderly and lower IQs and other problems among the young.
As she and other critics see it, the real problem isn’t a lack of fluoride but a failure to foster dental hygiene and better nutrition among lower-income families.
Plus, it’s medication without consent.
“Our water should not be used as a vehicle to distribute drugs,” she said. “That’s un-American.”
It’s that last argument that resonates most in a nation founded on skepticism of too much governmental control.
In November, these concerns were enough to persuade Brattleboro voters to reject fluoridation 2,859-2,276. Now, the same thing could happen in Bennington.
Not if Tommy Ivey, head of dental health for the state Health Department, can help it.
Today, 50 percent of Vermont’s youth — 71,000 children — aren’t receiving any dental care, and Ivey said he’s had it with fluoridation opponents’ intent on scaring people into undermining their kids’ dental health.
“The opposition is fairly passionate and organized,” he said. “All they have to do is put a little doubt in the voters’ mind, stretch the truth a little bit. We can’t do that.”
Ivey said 3,200 studies have determined fluoridation has no downside and is no more a “medication” than the other chemicals used to purify public water.
He also said fluoride is naturally in all water, including ocean water, so Crawford’s allergy claim is impossible, and the idea that public water systems are being used as a dumping ground for bad fluoride defies logic.
“I’m sorry, but I’m in a war now,” he said. “It’s time we had some passion on our side, too.”
Considering what’s at stake, you can’t blame him.