Multnomah County is planning to phase out its long-standing fluoride program at schools in the county, which offered fluoride tablets to children. At the same time, county leaders are working to expand an existing but “more efficient” dental program at schools, which offers dental sealants.
“Fluoride tablets are just not an effective way to to deliver fluoride to children,” Len Barozzini, Multnomah County’s new dental director.
The On Your Side Investigators uncovered county documents [link not working] Friday as well as emails between the county and Portland Public Schools (see below) that outline plans to phase out the program. Parents who opted into the program had to sign a waiver for their child to receive tablets, then their teacher or another staff member would provide a single tablet to the child once a day.
Barozzini says Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making the tooth more resistant to acid attacks from plaque and sugars in the mouth.
About 28,000 children in 108 schools participated in the daily supplement program, according to county documents.
“I’m not saying that tablets or supplements are a bad thing, it’s just that sealants or supplements are a more effective use of the taxpayers money,” Barozzini said.
Kids have far more access to fluoride now through everyday items like toothpaste, processed foods and drinks than they did when the program began about 40 years ago, Barozzini continued.
Plus, while tablets are most effective taken everyday, Barozzini said, many teachers ran into problems ensuring the kids took the tablets everyday.
“By everyday I mean 360 days a year,” Barozzini said. “Well as you know, kids are only in school for 140-170 days — the compliance rate even within those 140-170 days — is very low. It’s just not an effective use of taxpayers’ money.”
He continued, “The more and more we delved into this issue, we said ‘Wait a minute, we can we use those funds better and get more bang for the buck?’ So it’s not like there was a cabal to say ‘Let’s do away with the tablets program!’ I think me coming in as new, the medical director came in as new we said ‘Let’s look at the ways we can improve health care – particularly in my area for oral health – for children across Portland.”
Multnomah County school districts can still offer the tablets through this school year, as decided by each school district, but should be phased out by the fall of 2015.
Barozzini said the county still recommends tablets but through a primary care physician’s office or dentist’s office instead.
Barozzini said dental sealants, plastic coverings placed over the back teeth such as the molars, are scientifically proven to be the best way to prevent cavities.
Right now, two mobile trucks provide sealants for about 3,000 children in second, third, seventh and eighth grades in the county. This means fewer children will be impacted by the sealant program, initially, but Barozzini said the county is adding a third mobile dental sealant unit.
Portland Public Schools spokeswoman Christine Miles told KATU, “Portland Public Schools is happy to work with the county health department as they phase in a new dental program to help our students feel better, to do better in school.”
In the on-going debate of the use of fluoride in Portland, this comes as a relief to dad and dentist, Dr. Jay Levy. A former faculty member and researcher at OHSU’s School of Dentistry, he insists fluoride is toxic and can cause a myriad negative side effects including what he said are high rates of dental fluorosis, a malformation of tooth enamel, as well as “certain neurological damage, which translates to reduction in IQ.”
“I have poured through hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of articles … and my take is that fluoride is harmful,” Levy said. “That’s a lot of pills that are toxic and I’m quite relieved to know that’s not occurring. I know there are a lot of parents who are relieved to hear that too – that lament that their children.”
Levy has spoken at length, including this video, about the negative health effects of fluoride.
However, Kurt Ferre, a member of the Oregon Dental Association and dentist at the Crestin Dental Clinic, inside Crestin Elementary School in Portland, believes the county’s move is “short-sighted” and a “bad idea” to take tablets away from children.
“There is a systematic benefit to fluoride,” Ferre said who strongly believes the program’s demise will widen the dental health care gap between the haves and have-nots. Ferre also believes Portland is now going to see a spike in oral disease, particularly in low-income populations.
The On Your Side Investigators also reached out to the American Dental Association (ADA). They support the use of fluoride and sent the following fact sheet:
ADA Facts About Fluoride:
“Cavities used to be a fact of life. But over the past few decades, tooth decay has been reduced dramatically. The key reason: fluoride. Research has shown that fluoride reduces cavities in both children and adults. It also helps repair the early stages of tooth decay even before the decay becomes visible. Unfortunately, many people continue to be misinformed about fluoride and fluoridation. Fluoride is like any other nutrient; it is safe and effective when used appropriately. This article will help you learn more about the important oral health benefits of fluoride.”