My Turn: Fluoridation makes a big difference

Treating water is an important public health measure

Posted: Friday, July 06, 2007

The issue of water fluoridation is controversial. For some, the idea smacks of Big Brother from George Orwell's "1984." It gets people's hackles up - "Who said you could put fluoride in my water?"

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I used to be one of those people. I have changed my mind and now believe it is an important public health measure.

Throughout my career, I have worked with children and families throughout Alaska. I've seen that water fluoridation works in making teeth more resistant to decay. There is a vast difference in the dental health of children in Juneau compared with children in nonfluoridated communities.

Don't believe this? Just ask any dentist or hygienist who serves those communities. They will tell you about the unnecessary pain these children experience. It's been said it has more to do with poor nutrition and dental hygiene; I find that insulting to the families in those nonfluoridated communities. It implies the nutrition and hygiene habits of Juneau children are superior to those of children in nonfluoridated communities. This is not true. Of course everyone should eat right, brush and floss daily and see their dentist regularly. Fluoride is the difference you see between communities.

Our current health care system does not enable everyone access to adequate dental care. This is not Europe where preventive health and dental care is more accessible. Fluoride needs to be in our water system and is a public health measure designed to help everyone, regardless of income.

Regarding assertions that fluoride may cause other health-related problems, please understand that those findings are linked with dosages significantly higher than those in an approved water system. Do not be misled by this fear-ridden argument. As with many nutrients, ingesting either too much or too little can cause problems. Overdosing with fluoride supplements can be dangerous; it's much safer to carefully monitor fluoride levels in our water supply.

I also want to speak to the opponents' concern about infants and fluoride. Alaska has the highest initiation rate for breast-feeding in the nation. Breast-feeding is the way to solve the fluoride issue for young infants. Health care professionals work with women on an individual basis who either must or choose to give their babies formula.

Sixty years of science-based, peer-reviewed research continues to indicate that water fluoridation is a safe and cost-effective means for improving the public's dental health. Do not short-change the importance of healthy, strong teeth. They must last a lifetime and are essential for optimal nutrition.

There is a group of Juneau citizens working to get this issue on the fall ballot so that "we the people," and not the Juneau Assembly, can decide on this important community health issue. Please consider the facts objectively and don't be driven by fear in your decision.

• Susan Hennon coordinates the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium's Women, Infants and Children Program. She has two adult children with healthy teeth and has lived in Juneau for 23 years.

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