Washington, D.C. – More than 280,000 Californians, including San Jose-area residents, are closer to better dental health after the board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District voted Tuesday to adopt a Pew-supported policy to fluoridate its system.
“We welcome the board’s decision, as this vote reflects the substantial evidence that fluoridation benefits the oral health of children and the entire community,” said Shelly Gehshan, director of the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign.
Since the Santa Clara Valley Water District is one of the largest in the country without fluoridation, Pew partnered with The Health Trust, a California-based foundation, to inform and encourage this decision. The next step will be to establish a public-private partnership to secure funding for implementation, which would increase the number of Californians with access to fluoridated water to more than 60 percent. Nationally, 72 percent of Americans whose homes are connected to public systems receive fluoridated water.
“Fluoridation” occurs when fluoride, which exists naturally in virtually all water supplies, is adjusted to a level known to strengthen tooth enamel and prevent decay. People of all ages and income groups benefit without spending extra money or changing daily habits.
Concerns about fluoridation’s cost also have been raised as a reason to discontinue the practice. However, research shows that for most cities, every dollar invested in fluoridation saves $38 in unnecessary dental treatment costs.
“Fluoridation is a smart strategy to prevent tooth decay and other problems that raise a state’s dental-care costs,” Gehshan said. “At a time when state and local budgets are squeezed like never before, taxpayers can feel good knowing there is solid proof that fluoridation saves money.”
Cavities and other dental problems in the United States have been greatly reduced by water fluoridation. For example, the average number of decayed, filled, or missing teeth among 12-year-olds in the U.S. fell 68 percent between 1966 and 1994 — a span of years when the rate of fluoridation grew significantly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called fluoridation one of 10 “great public health achievements of the 20th century.”
Despite these advancements, tooth decay remains the most common chronic childhood disease — five times more prevalent than asthma. More than 70 million Americans lack access to a fluoridated water system.
“Public policy decisions about health should be based on sound science,” said Gehshan. “Anti-fluoride activists are using a number of arguments that misrepresent what the research says. Opponents have tried to raise fears about fluoridation’s safety by citing foreign studies of fluoride levels that were at least two or three times higher than the level used to fluoridate U.S. public water systems.”
Learn more about the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign at www.pewcenteronthestates.org/dental.