By Julie Gallelo, Art Pimentel and Dan Wolk
The partnership between Davis and Woodland on our surface water project provides both communities the most cost-effective solution to do what we should have done years ago: fluoridate our water.
Dental disease is a problem in our collective community. It affects everyone from children to seniors. In 2011-12, the CommuniCare Smile Savers program found 26 percent of the nearly 400 low-income preschool children screened from the cities of Davis and Woodland have active dental disease. These are children in our community who don’t have access to proper dental care or other preventative dental measures. Even with all the advancements in dental hygiene and standards of living over the recent decades, we still have a major problem on our hands.
Currently, through the good work of our local dentists and CommuniCare’s free dental clinics, we have a dental disease treatment program. However, this only addresses dental disease — a lifetime problem with no cure — once it has already developed. As such, to effectively address dental disease and positively impact the public health of our community, we need to shift our focus to prevention. And the most effective way to do so is through fluoridation.
Since the mid-20th century, community water fluoridation — the careful adjustment of naturally occurring fluoride levels in water to strengthen tooth enamel and reduce dental decay — has proved to be an effective preventative public health measure, reducing tooth decay by about 25 percent over a lifetime, per the American Dental Association.
Across the nation, more than 70 percent of people utilize community fluoridation, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In California, fluoridation is mandated by state law, if funds are available. And, right next door, the citizens of West Sacramento, Vacaville and Sacramento, to name a few, enjoy the benefits of fluoridated water every day. Pediatricians in Davis prescribe fluoride drops to parents to give to their children.
Today, Yolo County’s public health community — dentists, pediatricians, public health officials and every major, local health care provider — is united in support of community water fluoridation in Davis and Woodland. These are the folks who are on the front lines of combating dental disease. They know what policies work and what do not.
If we move past the specious arguments that a carefully calibrated amount of fluoride is harmful, all the proposed alternatives to fluoridation are simply not as effective. The fundamental problem is one of reaching those who are not practicing good dental hygiene. Not everyone brushes correctly with fluoridated toothpaste, not everyone flosses and not everyone goes in for two cleanings a year. We do not have the ability to bring dentists and hygienists twice a year into each home that needs it. But most everyone, particularly children, drinks tap water.
And then there is the argument about costs and that fluoridation does not make financial sense. Fluoride, of course, is not free. According to initial estimates, fluoridation could cost as much as $2 million in initial capital costs. After that, the ongoing costs would be less than $2 per month per household.
Although it may seem like a lot, cost should not be a reason to reject fluoridation, for two main reasons:
* First, with responsive bids on the joint water project required to come in 20 percent below the engineer’s estimate, upon which we based our rates, rates most likely would not have to increase further to accommodate fluoridation.
* Second, fluoridation is worth the cost, regardless of whether rates rise or not. The American Dental Association estimates that for every dollar invested in water fluoridation, $38 is saved in dental treatment, missed work and other costs. This is a classic example of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — an expensive, painful cure at that.
One of the primary purposes of government and its policymakers is to help the most vulnerable in our society. Fluoride does just that — in a cost-effective manner. We hope you agree.
— Julie Gallelo is the executive director of First 5 Yolo, Art Pimentel is the former mayor of Woodland and Dan Wolk is the mayor pro tem of Davis.