Fluoride Action Network

San Jose. Opinion: Fluoridation in San Jose will save kids’ misery, taxpayers’ costs

Source: San Jose Mercury News | SMITH is executive director of First 5 Santa Clara County. LAM is senior director, health care and federal issues, for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
Posted on March 18th, 2011

Silicon Valley is well known for having early adopters of the latest technology. But when it comes to protecting our teeth, the majority of the area’s residents are being left behind.

San Jose, with nearly 1 million residents, is the largest city in the United States without fluoridated water. Many neighboring cities, including Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale, have reaped the benefits of fluoridated water for decades. Considered one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century, fluoridated drinking water can reduce tooth decay by up to 40 percent.

It’s time for the capital of Silicon Valley to take advantage of fluoridation.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District must make this decision, since it is Santa Clara County’s water wholesaler and sells water to 13 retailers. On Tuesday, the district board will hold a study session on fluoridation. At its conclusion, members should direct staff to develop policies for the introduction of fluoride into city water.

Tooth decay is one of the most common and preventable diseases in infants and young children. By the time our children enter kindergarten, more than half will have already experienced the pain of a cavity. As a result, many children experiencing tooth decay struggle academically.

In 2007, more than 500,000 California children missed at least one day of school due to acute dental conditions and 40 percent of these children missed two or more days. Children with untreated dental conditions are distracted from learning by the pain.

Fluoridated water also has economic benefits, including decreasing health care costs for both businesses and individuals. For example, taxpayers already fund oral health care for those receiving health insurance through public programs such as Denti-Cal, Healthy Families and Medicare. Families enrolled in these public health insurance programs would not only benefit significantly from fluoridated water, they also would help lower the cost to taxpayers.

For those enrolled in employer-based dental care, the reduction in dental disease will save money as less care is needed. In 1999, 2.4 million workdays were lost due to dental conditions nationwide, not including the number of days parents missed due to their children’s dental conditions. Closer to home, one in three Santa Clara County adults reported losing a tooth due to dental decay or gum disease.

Fluoridation would provide our community with ongoing savings in health care costs. For every $1 invested in fluoridating our drinking water, $38 in future health care costs are saved. The Center for Disease Control estimates that fluoridation costs approximately 50 cents per person per year. In Santa Clara County, the average cost of one filling is $146, which would provide fluoridated water for a family of four for 73 years.

Finally, the lack of fluoridated water in San Jose is a social-justice issue. Children from lower-income families are more than twice as likely to suffer from tooth decay. Dental health issues affect minorities disproportionately. Studies show that 3 in 5 Hispanic and Asian kindergartners suffer from tooth decay, compared with 1 in 5 white children.

Seventy percent of U.S. citizens receive the benefits of community fluoridated water. San Jose residents should be among them.

Fluoridated drinking water benefits people of all ages. This is why FIRST 5 Santa Clara County and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group stand together in favor of Community Water Fluoridation. The benefits to children and their education, the health care cost savings and the drop in absenteeism due to dental disease make fluoridation a common sense investment.