OGDEN – Voting members of Weber, Davis and Utah counties should be pleased to find the issue of whether fluoride should be added to their community water supply will be on an upcoming ballot. Utah legislators have been working feverishly on this topic as they try to elevate Utah to the standards set by the rest of the nation. The U.S. Surgeon General’s Year 2000 health objectives include the fluoridation of 75 percent of the U.S. water supply by the end of the year. Currently the U.S. is at 62 percent.
Salt Lake County is one of the few metropolitan areas in the U.S. that does not adjust fluoride levels in their public water systems, and the state of Utah ranks near the bottom of the states in terms of people receiving the benefits of fluoridated water. The lack of fluoride in the average Utahn’s diet may be a significant factor in the high tooth decay rate among Utah children. A child in Utah has 40 percent more decayed, missing or filled teeth than the national average.
The study of water fluoridation began in 1916, when Frederick S. McKay, a Colorado dentist, observed that mottled or stained tooth enamel was caused by a substance in some supplies of drinking water. McKay noted that teeth with mottled enamel had a greater resistance to decay. In 1931 the unknown substance was identified as fluoride. Studies conducted from 1933-1942 showed children residing in areas where the water supplies contained naturally occurring fluoride at levels of at least 1ppm (one part per million) experienced up to 70 percent less tooth decay.
Fluoride benefits all ages by strengthening teeth and decreasing the need for dental fillings. The benefits of fluoridated water include saving of money, time and unnecessary pain to individuals and the community. The estimated cost of fluoridating the water in Utah ranges from 78 cents to $2 annually per person. Not only is this a small amount, but compared to the 80-to-1 benefit to cost ratio, a significant amount of money can be saved on unnecessary dental bills by the residents of fluoridated areas.
As the issue of placing water fluoridation on the ballot comes closer, many citizens may wonder why this is such a controversial topic. Anti-fluoridationists claim that water fluoridation has drastically increased the incidence of cancer, crippling skeletal fluorosis, brain lesions and neurological impairment. As a dental hygiene professional, I find it a shame that some people are so opposed to supplementing the water in our communities that they go to the extreme of making claims that are either totally exaggerated or have no clinical significance. The U.S. Public Health Service recently completed an extensive analysis of the benefits and risks of fluoride. Its report concluded that “optimal fluoridation of drinking water does not pose a detectable cancer risk to humans.” The report also concluded that the benefits of water fluoridation are great and easy to detect.
What about “crippling skeletal fluorosis?” Severe skeletal fluorosis can only result from drinking 2.6-6.6 gallons of fluoridated water of 1ppm daily for 10-20 years and only if none of the fluoride is excreted. However, the average person excretes 50 percent of ingested fluoride. In fact, almost all negative effects attributed to water fluoridation can also be attributed to that area having naturally high concentrations of fluoride in the water, instead of the minimum effective dose of .7-1.2 ppm — where 1ppm is comparable to one drop of fluoride in a bathtub full of water.
More than 50 years of research and experience has shown that water fluoridation at optimal levels does not harm people or the environment. Reputable national and state health and environmental organizations have proven over and over again that it is safe.
Some anti-fluoridationists claim that adding substances to a community’s water diminishes the free agency of the public and is therefore unconstitutional. However, there are currently more than 50 chemicals that have been approved to be added to public water supplies. These chemicals are added for the benefit of the people and are used for purposes ranging from disinfection to filtration.
Although a controversial issue, numerous public and privately funded studies have confirmed the benefits and minimal health risks of water fluoridation, and fluoridation programs are endorsed by many national and international health organizations, including the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization.
As citizens of Weber, Davis and Utah counties, it is our responsibility to be correctly informed about the issues of water fluoridation that will be included on the future ballot. Every eligible voter should recognize the significant benefits of water fluoridation and should vote positively on this issue so that Utah children can be spared from future painful and unnecessary dental diseases.