LITTLE ROCK – The state could save money and fewer Arkansans would suffer from toothaches if more communities in the state fluoridated their water, Rep. Tommy Roebuck, D-Arkadelphia, said Thursday.
Roebuck, a dentist, advocated water fluoridation statewide during discussions of a legislative study conducted this year. He said nearly 40 percent of the people in the state live in areas without fluoridated water, and the state’s Medicaid program spent about $29 million last year just on dental care.
Adding fluoride to water would cut the amount of tooth decay and number of cavities in a community in half, he said.
“We just cannot tolerate this; we must do something to prevent this,” Roebuck told the Senate and House Public Health, Welfare and Labor committees at the state Capitol.
Several of the state’s larger cities, including Fort Smith and Texarkana, do not have fluoridated water, he said.
During the meeting, Lynn Mouden, director of the state Department of Health’s office of oral health, said his department recently compared residents of Perry County, which has no fluoridated water, and Conway County, which does.
“Two times as many kids in Perry County had cavities,” he said.
Also addressing the lawmakers was William R. Maas, director of the division of oral health with the National Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga.
“Although other fluoride-containing products are available, water fluoridation remains the most equitable and cost-effective method of delivering fluoride to all members of most communities, regardless of age, educational attainment or income level,” Maas said.
Howard Pollick, a California dentist and a leader in the American Dental Association, told the committee that tooth decay and cavities cause children to miss school, and those who attend are usually unable to learn because of pain.
Nationwide, he said, students miss about 51,000 hours of class annual because of dental problems.
Pollick also told the committee that the California Legislature in 1995 passed a law requiring all communities with populations of 25,000 or more to fluoridate their water.
Roebuck said he liked that idea and is considering sponsoring a similar bill during the next legislative session. However, he said he hopes to have more public discussions on fluoridation before he files anything.
During Thursday’s meeting, Cathy Uhm of Cabot and Crystal Harvey of Hot Springs both spoke against fluoridation. Both women said there are studies suggesting that fluoride can be harmful.
All the health officials who addressed the committee Thursday denied any health risks of drinking fluoridated water.