The Wichita Business Coalition on Health Care is encouraging the city’s voters to say “yes” to fluoridating Wichita’s water supply.
The coalition, which includes more than 50 of Wichita’s largest employers, as well as health care providers and insurers, says having fluoride in the water will play an important role in preventing oral health problems, thus reducing the community’s health care costs.
The debate about fluoride has been going on for months, and groups on both sides have been vocal. The question is on the Nov. 6 general election ballot for voters in the Wichita city limits.
The Sedgwick County Commission, for example, spent part of its meeting Wednesday hearing from groups and organizations opposed to adding fluoride to the water.
On the pro-fluoride side of the debate, the organization Wichitans for Healthy Teeth — a volunteer group of dentists, doctors and community members — announced last week that it had raised $1.35 million toward the infrastructure costs of fluoridation.
That announcement drew harsh criticism from some, including Don Landis of Wichitans Opposed to Fluoridation, who told The Wichita Eagle that Wichitans for Healthy Teeth should be raising money to care for low-income children, directly combating the real issue of poor dental health.
Landis tells us that the pro-fluoride groups aren’t factoring in all of the potential costs that could be associated with adding fluoride to the water.
He says cost-savings projections don’t factor in issues that could be created by fluoridating water, such as increased dental fluorosis — a developmental disturbance of dental enamel that is caused by excessive exposure to high concentrations of fluoride — or the problems that fluoride could cause people with chronic kidney problems.
“I think the business coalition should be more far-reaching in (its) research before coming to these conclusions,” Landis says.
Only Wichita’s voters will address the fluoride issue, but surrounding cities who purchase all or part of their water from Wichita have expressed concern that their voters can’t weigh in on the issue.
Below is a news release that details the pro-fluoride stance of the business coalition and Wichitans for Healthy Teeth:
The Wichita Business Coalition on Health Care, a group of more than 50 of Wichita’s largest employers, health care providers and insurers, understands the impact oral health has on the business community — and the important role fluoride plays in preventing dental decay and increasing workplace productivity.
“The Wichita Business Coalition on Health Care strongly supports the water fluoridation ballot issue,” said Janet Hamous, interim executive director of the Coalition. “As business leaders, health care providers and insurers, we recognize the positive health benefits fluoridated water will provide to our community, and we are not distracted by unsubstantiated claims that oppose the initiative.”
The coalition works collaboratively to address health care costs, quality and access within our community and says poor oral health is costing the U.S. workforce.
“Tooth decay costs U.S. adults more than 164 million work hours each year, and their pain and lost productivity costs U.S. businesses,” said Hamous. “Fluoride can reduce the rate of tooth decay up to 25 percent and can help to prevent oral health issues from affecting Wichita employees.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, most adults show signs of gum disease, but less than two-thirds have seen a dentist in the past six months. Twenty eight percent of adults aged 35 to 44 have untreated tooth decay. Additionally, one in four adults report some sort of facial pain in the past six months, usually caused by toothaches.
“Decay can severely limit adults by causing physical pain and has many other consequences that affect workers financially, emotionally and professionally,” Hamous continued. “Embarrassment about tooth decay causes some people to avoid smiling or laughing. Even getting a job can be difficult.”
Within a few years after fluoridating its public water system, Wichita would reduce the incidence of new decay by approximately 25 percent, saving citizens more than $4.5 million annually in restorative care. Research shows that for cities the size of Wichita, every dollar spent on fluoridation saves $38 in dental treatment costs.
In 2010, the total cost of fillings or basic restorative dental treatments for Wichita residents covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield, Delta Dental and Medicaid was approximately $18 million.
Once fluoridation begins, the annual costs to maintain it would add 9 cents to a monthly household water bill. Just this week, Wichitans for Healthy Teeth announced commitments from private funders for $1,350,000 toward infrastructure costs for the City of Wichita to implement water fluoridation. Other funders have indicated decisions on supporting the balance of the infrastructure costs will be made post-election.
“So many ideas are proposed, but fluoridation is one of the few that actually returns more money by reducing the need for fillings and other more expensive treatments for toothaches and dental conditions,” said Dr. Larry Hund, a pediatrician in Wichita and member of Wichitans for Healthy Teeth. “Fluoridation – the safest, most effective way to reduce tooth decay in our city – is a win-win. It’s good for our health and good for our pocketbooks.”