The Picayune City Council has voted to fluoridate the city’s drinking water supply and will fill out a grant application to get the estimated $35,000 cost for the equipment and installation for free.
John Justice, a fluoridation administrator with the Mississippi State Department of Health, recently spoke to the Picayune City Council about adding fluoride to the city’s water system.
Justice said the program is part of nationwide push to get 75 percent of the nation’s drinking water fluoridated by 2010.
Justice said he travels around the state getting as many public water systems as possible to sign up for fluoride and said as many as 1 million people in the state currently drink fluorinated water.
“That’s about half where we want it, though,” he said.
He said tooth decay is the most chronic condition in 5 to 17-year-olds and is five times more common than asthma and a thousand times more common than hay fever.
A study done by state dental director Dr. Dick Mosca and Mississippi State University researchers in 2000 showed that over 70 percent of 5,000 third graders experienced tooth decay. “That is an extremely high rate,” Justice said.
Nearly half of the children studied required dental care and about 15 percent needed urgent care, and an estimated 51 million school hours are lost each year due to dental-related illnesses, Justice said.
Justice said despite popular beliefs, tooth decay is not caused by sugar, but rather bacteria that is transmitted to the child.
“What bacteria eats are sugar and other similar carbohydrates,” he said. That’s where the sugar comes into it.”
Justice said bacteria excretes acid as a by-product, which in turn forms a hole in the tooth.
According to the American Dental Association, most dentist costs are paid for by insurance and taxpayer dollars, which, in turn, affects insurance premiums.
Justice said water fluoridation is one way to prevent tooth decay in children, along with brushing twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste and regular dental checkups.
Justice said fluoride is naturally occurring in all water in differing levels. Some are at ideal levels, while others have low levels, he said.
Justice said Mississippi is currently about 40 percent fluoridated. “We want to be closer to 80 percent,” he said.
Picayune dentist Dr. Trey Combs said according to an annual drinking water quality report, the level of fluoride in the drinking water is .189 parts per million. The optimal scenario is between .7 and 1.2 parts per million, he said.
Combs called the program “an extremely worthwhile investment” and said the only way for local children and adults to get the proper amount of fluoride now is to take fluoride supplements.
There is a problem with tooth decay in local children between the ages of 0 and 6 and fluoridated drinking water could help, Combs said.
Combs said that according to the American Dental Association, up to 60 percent of cavities in baby teeth and 35 percent in permanent teeth can be prevented with fluoridated drinking water.
“I cannot even begin to imagine what the Picayune population spends every year in having teeth filled or root canals or caps and crowns,” he said.
Justice said under the program, 100 percent of the up front costs of fluoridation equipment, installation, housing and chemicals for the first year are covered.
Once the contract is received, Justice said one-half of the funds will be released. The other half will be given to the city once the equipment is installed, he said.
Justice said the cost to the city is replacing the equipment, usually every 15 to 20 years.