BENNINGTON — The local health care system, which runs the hospital, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, has taken a position on the controversial fluoride question that Bennington voters will face in March.
A news release, sent Tuesday, said officials at Southwestern Vermont Health Care would consider “recommendations of their health care providers when participating in the public discussion and voting on this issue.”
The release said fluoride “helps harden teeth and prevents bacteria from eroding teeth.”
Because supporters of the question have submitted petitions with sufficient signatures, voters will be asked whether they support the adjustment of fluoride in Bennington’s water to a level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The question is advisory only but expected to give the members of the Select Board, who are also the town’s water board, some guidance.
The change had been recommended by the Bennington Oral Health Coalition, whose members include dentists, doctors and other health care professionals.
Sue Andrews, a member of the coalition, said Bennington residents should consider the poor oral health of local students and the improvement that fluoridated water could bring. A study released last year of 24 public schools found that two of Bennington’s elementary schools were in the top four for the worst oral health problems in the state.
However, a number of Bennington residents are still opposed to the idea of changing the level of fluoride, which occurs naturally in water, to a higher level.
Now, the local health care system is getting involved by releasing information.
James Trimarchi, director of planning for the health care system, said that local medical health care professionals were aware that fluoridation had been controversial in Bennington for years.
“As we reviewed the literature around fluoridation, it’s pretty unequivocal. … The (CDC) has recognized water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. As we talked to our physicians, our medical staff has endorsed the concept of fluoridating Bennington’s water supply. So our medical staff backs it, the CDC backs it, the American Dental Association backs it,” he said.
Trimarchi said SVHC was trying to put out true facts about fluoridation.
“There’s a lot of rumor and a lot of misinformation out there. What we’re trying to do is try to clear the air a little bit,” he said.
According to Trimarchi, the health care system isn’t trying to tell people how to vote but wanted to provide scientific information.
The health care system’s press release said fluoridation would be a benefit to people in Bennington by “improving their health and decreasing their health care spending.”
The medical staff and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam physicians endorse fluoridating Bennington’s water “because it is safe and provides clear health benefits.”
A forum on fluoridation, hosted by the Bennington Oral Health Care Coalition, is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Bennington Fire Facility Trimarchi said he and other representatives of SVHC will be on the panel.
Questions to be addressed at the forum can be submitted in advance by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.