Fluoridation – A Misplaced Conflict
OPINION -- August 28, 2012 -- It is unfortunate that The Lund Report gave Rick North such as prominent podium from which to expound the “bad science” used by opponents to water fluoridation, when the accumulated facts deny his conclusions. Had he spoken
the truth, he would not have required a full page to expound his credentials – when the facts speak for themselves.
Fluoride is not a medication, or a drug, but a natural mineral that occurs in trace amounts (parts per million) in our environment, most notably in water. Many areas of the world do not need to consider adding supplemental fluoride to their water supplies, as they already have the optimal concentration of 2.2 ppm of sodium fluoride in their groundwater. Unfortunately, Portland’s Bull Run water contains only .05 ppm of fluoride, while it has 2.4 ppm of sodium chloride.
The critical period of enamel formation begins before birth and extends to 48 months of age. During this process, depending on availability from the environment, phosphate and calcium bond with either fluoride or chloride to form the enamel that protects our internal tooth structures. Not all enamels are created equal! Enamel with a high proportion of chloride is soft and resists cavities poorly, while the fluoride rich version is hard, producing a more durable outer coating to the teeth. Throughout the lifespan, fluoride in our diet mixes with saliva to neutralize dietary acids that attack the enamel – providing further protection from cavities.
Portland is the largest US city NOT providing fluoridated water to its citizens! 204 million Americans have shared the benefits of optimally fluoridated drinking water for the past 65 years with safety safety. Recent studies in Illinois comparing the dental health of children in towns with fluoridated water to those without showed a 45% reduction in cavities. While the citizens of other States have benefited, Oregon ranks near the bottom in measures of oral health.
The prevalence of cavities in our State’s children has reached near epidemic proportions, with a 49% increase between 2002-2007. Currently 35% of Oregon preschoolers have untreated cavities and over 20% have greater than 7 cavities per child. For children with inadequate dental insurance, this leads to a lifetime of pain, decreased self-esteem and reduced employability. Dental authorities estimate the lifetime treatment cost of each affected tooth at over $2,000.
Minerals and vitamins are added to many of our foods, due to their importance in public health. We add calcium to orange juice, vitamin D to milk, folic acid to bread and iodine to salt to prevent the diseases associated with their deficiency. Fluoride is no different. In fact, the CDC includes fluoridation among the 10 most important advances in public health in the 20th century. The practice has been endorsed by every Surgeon General in the last 40 years. The cost of fluoridation is negligible, while the savings for our society are mammoth – over $18/year in decreased dental costs for each resident. The States of New York and Texas recently confirmed that fluoridation saved over $24/ year/ child in dental treatment costs.
During the 3 years in which I served as Medical Director for the Children’s Community Clinic in North Portland, I personally witnessed the degree to which this problem affects those populations least able to afford dental care. Cavities in children of color are as much as twice as common as in the more affluent communities, and these children have few resources for dental treatment.
Most often their only recourse is having their teeth pulled. Fluoridation will improve the dental health of all our citizens. It is an ethical mandate, not a conspiracy by the city council. Those who oppose fluoridation based on the same type of bad science used to discredit global warming should be allowed to have their say, but in the end we should proceed with this vital improvement in our public health. Future generations of Oregonians will thank us.
Dr. LaGrone is in practice in Gresham with Calcagno Pediatrics and served most recently as the medical director of the Children's Community Clinic in Portland from 2008-2011. A member of the emergency response team for Medical Teams International, he made two trips to Haiti in 2010-2011 for the earthquake and to run a cholera clinic. He’s also the founder and chaired the Environmental Health Committee of the Mississippi State Medical Association. Its most notable achievement was leading the successful opposition to nuclear waste storage in the state.