Fluoridation good for our health, good for our budgets

Poor oral health affects every aspect of a person’s life. The pain of dental disease can disrupt sleep, make eating difficult, and make it impossible for a child to focus in school or for an adult to work.

Untreated dental disease can also lead to serious infections and has been linked to other severe health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.

As a physician, I see many patients who are suffering from dental disease.

The good news is that dental disease is entirely preventable. One of the most cost-effective ways to prevent dental disease is through community water fluoridation.

Fluoridation is a common-sense health measure that reduces tooth decay by about 25 percent. And it benefits everyone — young, old, rich, poor and especially those without access to dental care.

So when a community has the opportunity to enact a cost-effective public health measure proven to prevent oral disease, we should jump at the chance. Unfortunately, voters in Portland recently chose not to fluoridate their water supplies.

But nationwide there is positive momentum in favor of community water fluoridation. Recently, the California cities of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose and the entire state of Arkansas carefully examined the evidence and decided that water fluoridation is the right choice.

In Pierce County, 44 percent of homes receive fluoridated water, including those in Fife, Fircrest, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Tacoma, Parkland and University Place. More than two-thirds of Americans now drink fluoridated water every day. This is more good news because good oral health leads to better overall health.

It is surprising that there are activists who still oppose fluoridation and work to convince communities not to fluoridate. Their arguments against fluoridation are unfounded.

The scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports community water fluoridation, and nearly every health and medical organization endorses fluoridation, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Dental Association, the Institute of Medicine, the American Public Health Association and many others.

Taxpayers, businesses and families save money when everyone has access to fluoridated water. It is pretty straightforward: Fluoridation prevents cavities, and preventing cavities saves money. Seniors in particular are vulnerable to cavities and benefit from water fluoridation.

On average, fluoridation only costs about $1 per person per year. Compare this with the lifetime of repairs for a single cavity, which usually cost more than $2,000. When people without access to dental care have painful dental cavities, they often end up in the emergency room because they have no other option for care.

Emergency room care is expensive, placing a financial burden on families and taxpayers. Preventing cavities by drinking fluoridated water is a lot less expensive than treating them after they occur.

More than 60 years of study have verified the effectiveness of fluoridating the water and led the Centers for Disease Control to name community water fluoridation one of the top public health achievements of the 20th century.

Refusing to fluoridate community water supplies amounts to turning our backs on one of the most cost-effective disease prevention measures available. Health and medical organizations nationwide strongly support water fluoridation, and so should communities. It improves health and saves money.

Dr. Jeff Smith is medical director of Community Health Care in Tacoma.