Littleton – Whatever Littleton residents do to take care of their and their children’s oral health, they should keep it up.
That’s the message from the Nashoba Boards of Health, an agency that monitors public health in towns in the area.
Despite no fluoride in its public water supply, studies show that the town stacks up well against its neighbors, according to data collected by the Nashoba board.
Littleton Board of Health Vice Chairman Ted Doucette said the board will arrive at final wording for a non-binding referendum on the May town ballot that will ask the town whether or not it favors adding fluoride to the public water supply.
Doucette said the board has held public hearings to get viewpoints from both proponents and opponents of the move.
Dr. Craig Gruskowski, a local dentist and Board of Health member, favors it. He said dental decay is a huge public health problem, especially among populations that may not see a dentist regularly. Gruskowski said infectious diseases other than tooth decay can result from poor oral hygiene.
On the other side of the argument, Littleton Light and Water Department Director Savas Danos feels that it is unnecessary since the bulk of the water goes to laundry, dish washing and bathing.
“Kids don’t drink water from the tap,” said Danos, although he does not deny the value of fluoride for children’s teeth.
“There’s no question it does improve oral hygiene, but it’s kind of wasteful here,” said Danos.
Doucette said the public that has attended the hearings has been of two minds.
“Those not in favor said they didn’t want something added without their choice,” said Doucette.
He said he brought the matter to the board after hearing from people that wanted fluoride added to the water.
“It was my issue,” said Doucette. “A couple of people wondered why we didn’t have it, so I brought it before the board. Our goal is to get it to Town Meeting.”
He said state law stipulates that the Board of Health is the only agent that can compel the addition of fluoride.
“The only body that can order the town to add fluoride is the Board of Health,” said Doucette. “That’s why we are proposing a non-binding referendum. It cannot be a binding one.” The next Board of Health meeting is March 5.
He said the board will assess the non-binding votes to determine a future course of action.
“If the town votes overwhelmingly to add it, we will act on that, and the town votes no, we will act on that,” he said.
He said the question of fluoridating the water supply has not come up in 30 years in Littleton.
But Doucette said a recent survey of oral health taken over the last five years put Littleton in a positive light.
He said the Nashoba Boards of Health has a program in the schools that provides for a dental hygienist to check, on a voluntary basis, a student’s mouth for decay and other problems, and if appropriate, refer the child to a dentist.
“The average was 8 to 10 percent of children in the other Nashoba towns got referrals,” said Doucette, “but Littleton had only about a 5 percent referral rate.”
He said one of the towns in the survey fluoridated its water, but Littleton was “still better.”
Doucette chalks it up to heightened public awareness of fluoride rinses, drops and tablets, as well as regular trips to the dentist.