Op-Ed

Anti-fluoridation billboards are misleading, irresponsible

One of four billboards in the Tacoma area claims that community fluoridation is toxic to children, an argument disputed by reputable medical experts.
One of four billboards in the Tacoma area claims that community fluoridation is toxic to children, an argument disputed by reputable medical experts. Courtesy C.N. Sorci

An outside national group has posted disturbing messages on billboards in our city, threatening the health of our children.

The roadside propaganda falsely asserts that community water fluoridation is harmful to children, when in fact numerous scientific studies and 70 years of practical application have proven that water fluoridation safely and effectively protects teeth against cavities.

In our combined 28 years of medical practice, we have witnessed the benefits of water fluoridation greatly outweigh any potential harm of mild cosmetic fluorosis.

Dental disease is one of the most common and preventable childhood diseases. Poor oral health influences school attendance, employment prospects, self-esteem, nutrition and quality of life.

In Pierce County, where about 44 percent of the population has access to fluoride in their public drinking water, it is kids who benefit the most. Pierce County schoolchildren who live in areas without fluoride are 50 percent more likely to have widespread decay, according to a statewide survey that looked at children’s oral health.

We’ve also seen firsthand the effects of tooth decay and how the lack of fluoridation and access to preventive dental care for some of our county’s children has led to unfortunate and entirely preventable consequences. We frequently see children in our practice who need to undergo anesthesia in the hospital for dental cavity fillings and extractions.

The greatest disservice in this campaign is that the billboards appear primarily in more vulnerable Tacoma neighborhoods, where many residents have difficulty accessing health care and health information, and are most affected by dental disease. At-risk populations with a higher baseline risk of dental disease have the most to benefit from water fluoridation. The messages and tactics are irresponsible and potentially harmful.

The majority of people in the U.S., more than 210 million Americans – including residents of Tacoma, University Place and Fircrest – demonstrate water fluoridation’s safety and efficacy each day.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cited community water fluoridation as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th ccentury. Numerous professional organizations – including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Dental Association – endorse community water fluoridation.

This endorsement is based on more than 150 international studies showing that appropriate levels of community water fluoridation reduces cavities in children and adults by at least 25 percent without major harm.

Fluoride, a mineral found naturally in most water, strengthens teeth and protects them against harmful tooth decay when recommended amounts (0.7 to 1.2 parts per million) are added to public drinking water. Bottled and filtered water often have insufficient fluoride concentrations for dental health.

Water fluoridation is relatively simple and cost-effective. A single filling costs at least $2,000 in treatment and maintenance over a lifetime. Every dollar spent on fluoridation results in a savings of $43 in unnecessary dental treatment costs.

Fluoridation is an important preventive strategy to promote oral health alongside other preventive interventions, including healthy eating, tooth brushing and access to dental care.

If you have questions about water fluoridation, go to the websites of reputable health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Dental Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Public Health Association. Or discuss it with your child’s pediatrician, your family doctor or your dentist.

Dr. Janelle Guirguis-Blake practices family medicine and obstetrics at MultiCare Tacoma Family Medicine. Dr. Chris Jones is a pediatrician at Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center.

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