By Kimberly Craven, DDS, and Priti Laselle, MD
Spokane has a lot of oral health problems. As a local dentist and emergency room pediatrician, we have seen our fair share of dental emergencies, from adults who need every one of their teeth removed to toddlers with preventable abscesses that cause unnecessary pain to the point where it is difficult to open their mouth to even drink. It is heartbreaking to watch the needless suffering these patients go through. And it all starts from the same root cause: cavities.
Most people don’t realize the extent of issue in our community. Data from Spokane Regional Health District shows how widespread the problem is:
• 4 in 10 kindergarten-age kids in Spokane have had at least one cavity.
• 1 in 5 Spokane third-graders has seven or more teeth that are decayed or have fillings.
• 1 in 3 Spokane seniors is missing all their teeth.
Nature’s cavity fighter
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can prevent oral disease, which affects so many kids and adults in our community. Fluoride is nature’s cavity fighter. It’s a naturally occurring mineral found in lakes, rivers, oceans and aquifers. But it’s sometimes present at levels below what’s needed to prevent tooth decay. That’s why, for decades, communities throughout the U.S. and the world have balanced the level of fluoride in water through fluoridation.
Safety and effectiveness based in science
Disinformation about the proven benefits of community water fluoridation hurts everyone. Promoters of false claims, misrepresented research and illogical conclusions want to create doubt and stoke fears. The fact is community water fluoridation is a public health success story with a track record of preventing oral health problems, like the rampant cavities and abscesses we see in kids as young as two.
We can do better for our kids’ and community’s health. It starts by knowing the truth about the science – and the way it’s been misrepresented in communities like ours.
Claims are being made about fluoridation that are simply not true. They are intentionally misleading and based on deeply flawed interpretations of research. A couple assertions you may have seen on social media:
Neurotoxicity and brain development: The papers often cited as support for the claim that fluoride causes poor brain development and neurotoxicity have been found to have had poor study strength due to the designs of the study. Specifically, the studies were done without blinding and taking into account consideration of other confounding factors. For example, in China, where most of the studies were completed, researchers did not take into account varying confounding factors such as lead and arsenic levels in the water, which have been proven to be more harmful to brain development than the low levels of fluoride being promoted to help prevent cavities in our water.
Effects on IQ: Again, the single and disputed paper that makes this claim was not a well-done study. Multiple studies, reports and research done since have countered the claim that fluoridated water affects intelligence. For example, in 2015, the American Journal of Public Health published the only study of fluoride and IQ conducted in a country where water fluoridation is commonplace and found no connection between IQ and fluoridated water. This study measured the subjects’ IQ numerous times over the course of 30 years.
Peer-reviewed, scientific research performed over the past 75 years has been consistently clear: Community fluoridation is safe and effective. That’s why more than 100 reputable U.S. and international health organizations, including the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians and American Dental Association, continue to support it – and no health organization opposes it.
A legacy and future of healthy smiles
Since the process began in 1945, hundreds of cities have started community water fluoridation. Today, community water systems with fluoridated water serve about three in four people in the U.S. And the results have been significant: Less tooth decay and better overall health. Our city is being left behind. We love Spokane, that’s why we live and practice here and we want these same benefits for our families and our patients.
We need do more to improve oral health in our community. We regularly see the effects this problem is having on people in our city. That’s why we support community water fluoridation. We support it because the weight of the science – hundreds of studies, reputable scientific sources, on decades of examination throughout the U.S. and world – shows community water fluoridation is safe, effective and improves health for all.
Kimberly Craven, DDS, is a local dentist. Priti Laselle, M.D., is an emergency room pediatrician.
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