For the dentists in the room at the County Commission workshop Aug. 1, the issue was clear: Fluoridation of a community’s water supply decreases their profession’s workload — and that's a good thing.
Flagler County and Palm Coast don’t have it. But the County Commission might change that, using $150,000 in potential state Department of Health grant money to begin a water fluoridation program.
Local dentist David Turner, who works for the Flagler County Health Department, has been a practicing for about 20 years. He started his career in the area, worked elsewhere, then moved back.
“Back when I first came here, we addressed some significant dental problems with the children in Flagler County,” he said. “The time that has passed has not healed the problem of dental disease in our kids. … I would like to see fewer kids that come to me from the school nurse who have a toothache. … I see far too many kids who have to go through significant dental restorative procedures that have mixed results. They’d be much better off with just good, solid teeth to begin with.”
Fluoridation does that, and has been safely used in communities in the U.S. for about 71 years, said Flagler County Health Department Administrator Robert Snyder.
One of the first studies of fluoridation, Snyder said, compared tooth decay in two communities in Michigan: Grand Rapids, the first community to fluoridate its water, back around 1945; and Muskegon, which did not fluoridate.
“There was a 40-60% reduction in cavities and tooth decay in Grand Rapids, Michigan versus Muskegon,” he said.
Since then, he said, there have been thousands of similar studies, and fluoridation has been embraced by national and international medical and dental associations including the American Medical Association, the American Dental Association and the World Health Organization.
“It is effective,” he said. “All the communities that have fluoride — again, it reduces tooth decay on average between 20 and 40%.”
And it isn’t dangerous, he said. Fluoride is a mineral that appears naturally in all water supplies, in some cases in high enough concentrations to prevent tooth decay — about .7 milligrams per liter of water.
“This statistic really blew my mind when I began researching fluoride: 30 cities in florida, including Jacksonville, have the optimal amount naturally occurring already in their water,” Snyder said. So they don’t have to add any. “77% of all Floridians served by a public water system benefit from fluoride. ... 75% of all Americans served by a public water system benefit from fluoride," he continued. "So that’s 13 million Floridians, 210 million Americans that already benefit from fluoride” — Flagler County residents not among them.
Fluoridating saves money in the long run, Snyder said, because every $1 invested in fluoridation saves about $38 in future dental expenses.
“Fluoridation is for our children,” he said. When Snyder pulled data from the Flagler County School District last fall, he said, he found that 75 children showed up in a six- to seven-week period "complaining of bad toothache, where they couldn’t concentrate; they were in pain and discomfort.”
Adding fluoride in the community’s water could help fix that. And, he said, “It impacts everyone in the community, regardless of race, ethnicity or financial status. It’s a matter of turning on the tap water.”
County Commissioner Barbara Revels, who grew up in Flagler County, said her dentist has had her rinsing with fluoridated mouth wash, “to get back those years of not having fluoridated water.”
“I only have one comment, and that is: Shame on us,” Revels said. “I mean really, shame on us.”
Responding to a question from Commissioner Charlie Ericksen, Snyder said he’s also started conversations with Palm Coast officials about the possibility of adding fluoride in Palm Coast’s water.
The issue will come back before the County Commission for a vote in the future, County Administrator Craig Coffey said.
“We’ll have a lot more details on the grant, and as we address the water treatment train for Plantation Bay, this will likely be a component of it,” he said. “We’ll have to work some more on the mechanics of it."