Behind the dentist, photographs of toothless mouths hung agape, while before her a group of residents weighed the merits of fluoridated water.
Linda Altenhoff, a dentist with the Texas Department of Health, spent her Wednesday evening at the end of May explaining to 25 members of the District 9 Neighborhood Alliance why they should support adding fluoride to Bexar County water.
Altenhoff is part of the fluoride education task force, which campaigns to add fluoride to local water supplies.
Joe Babb, the director of clinical services at the Methodist Healthcare Ministries, heads the task force. He and his pro-fluoridation colleagues began their push to educate the public in February and have done about 10 presentations so far, Babb said. The group wants to get a measure passed in the November election to add the chemical to the water here.
“There’s a lot of ignorance out there; there’s a lot of fear,” Babb said.
“Most of them have been very responsive,” Altenhoff said, of those who have heard her presentations. “They are very unaware of the presence of the need and the extent of the need.”
“If you’re fortunate you’ve not had a child go through this, but that is not the case in other parts of San Antonio,” she told the District 9 audience.
Fluoride strengthens the enamel on teeth, which in turn protects the teeth from decay, she said. It is essential for young children, babies and fetuses in their mother’s wombs, because the stronger the baby teeth are the stronger the adult teeth will be, she explained.
The problem in San Antonio, Altenhoff said, is that many low-income families with children do not have access to the dental care for their children that would prevent tooth decay the same way fluoride in the water would.
A study commissioned by the Texas Legislature and released last month examined the impact of fluoride on the neediest children, those covered by Medicaid. The study found that adding trace amounts of fluoride to Bexar County water would save $1,071,666 annually in Medicaid costs for the children of Bexar County, or about $18 per child.
Altenhoff demonstrated her points with the graphic slides on the wall, showing mouths full of diseased and decaying teeth — or with no teeth at all.
She said that large quantities of fluoride have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals, and smaller amounts, such as the fluoride treatments in dentists’ offices, can make some people nauseous.
However, she added, the amounts under consideration for public consumption are significantly smaller.
The measurements are in decimals of parts per million — .24 parts fluoride for each million parts water, according to the state study.
Orthodontist Robert Solinski told his fellow North Side residents that he practiced dentistry in the Air Force. He said that out of 60 military mouths he would check a day, about four would need full teeth extractions.
“The other kids were either from places with fluoride, or had good dental hygiene,” he said, in defense of adding fluoride to Bexar County water.
Will Long remained skeptical.
“I would rather err on the side of purity,” said the advertising salesman and self-described environmentalist. “If you put stuff in my water, I’ll have to buy (bottled water), although I pay my water bills, and I’ve paid my water bills for 30 years.”
For more information on fluoride and the efforts to add it to Bexar County water, or to arrange a presentation for a group, call Babb at the Methodist Healthcare Ministries, 692-0234.
The Texas Department of Health’s Water Fluoridation Costs in Texas study can be accessed on the web at www.tdh.state.tx.us/dental/flstudy.htm, along with other information about dental health issues at another site: www.tdh.state.tx.us/dental/dental.htm.