The Richland City Council will consider fluoridating city water in the wake of deep cuts to public health programs.
Written information both for and against will be collected for council members, and a workshop will be scheduled on the topic. Councilman Larry Haler said he expected one or two public hearings to be scheduled in the next months if the council decides to pursue fluoridation.
“We’re just in the talking stages now,” Haler said.
Haler raised the issue Tuesday night at a discussion session with other council members. He and Councilwoman Carol Moser, both members of the Benton Franklin District Health Board, believe this is the time for the council to consider fluoridation, he said.
“Someone has to pick up from where public health leaves off,” he said.
Because of state budget cuts, the health district has drawn up a 2003 budget that calls for cutting a third of its work force, ending several programs and closing its offices in Richland and Prosser.
The annual $1.2 million in state money is used to match grants or pay overhead, such as utility costs, so cuts are expected to deepen in future budgets. Health officials expect the department to be offering less than half its current services in five years.
Now the health district employs a dental hygienist who visits schools to talk to students about how to care for their teeth and works on a program that applies dental sealants to children’s teeth in schools, particularly those with many low-income students.
Other programs match young children with dentists willing to accept a limited number of clients covered by state medical coupons, which often don’t pay enough to cover overhead costs. The health department also gives pregnant and parenting mothers basic information on how to prevent cavities.
Pasco and Yakima fluoridate their water in programs started in recent years with the help of grants from the Washington Dental Service, but Kennewick turned down a similar grant in January.
Richland also will look for grants that could pay startup costs of the program. Once in place, fluoridating water costs an average of 50 cents per person per year, the American Dental Association said.
Now the Richland water supply has naturally occurring fluoride of 0.2 parts per million. At that level, the American Dental Association recommends that all children from 6 months to 16 years be given daily prescription fluoride supplements.
The alternative is to add fluoride to the water supply to bring it to a level high enough to prevent cavities but too low to cause teeth to develop a mottled appearance, the dental association said.
Now some Mid-Columbia communities — including Kahlotus, Plymouth and Umatilla — have naturally occurring fluoride in their water at levels higher than would be proposed for Richland.
The American Dental Association promotes fluoridation as a way to help young children grow teeth that will be resistant to cavities even in adulthood. It’s also effective in helping adults, particularly the elderly, prevent tooth decay, according to the association.
A wide range of mainstream medical and science organizations support fluoridation as a way to safely promote healthy teeth, according to a list kept by the dental association. They include the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; the American Academy of Pediatrics; and the National Academy of Sciences.
But fluoridation also has its skeptics, as the Kennewick City Council learned. Many Internet sites are devoted to criticism of fluoridation.
And although most Tri-City doctors and dentists appear to support fluoridation, a few do not. They include Richland dentist Craig Christian who told the Kennewick council that fluoride may cause some cancers. Others said fluoride may be tainted by contaminants.
The American Dental Association maintains that criticisms of the safety and effectiveness of fluoride — when used properly — have not been substantiated by generally accepted science after 50 years of research.