by Tia Will
Over the past few months, much has been discussed in public, before the WAC, in letters to the editor of the Enterprise and in this blog about the pros and cons of water fluoridation. Some of the comments pertain to the effectiveness of fluoride in the prevention of tooth decay, some to the safety, some to the costs, some to whether or not this is an appropriate public health measure at all.
All of these are valid concerns which should and have been addressed at length. We are approaching time for the City Council to make a decision. This is not a “no brainer” as some from each side of the issue have suggested. What I think is true of both proponents and opponents is that everyone who cares enough to educate themselves and comment on this issue has the best interest of the community in mind. What we have are differences of opinion about what is the “best interest” of our community.
These comments are all well intentioned and overlook a vital point. The people that are the most in favor of water fluoridation are those who are already the most active in the public health sphere and are seeing the problems with and short falls of these programs. These are the same private health care and public health care providers who are saying that, yes, we need to pursue these kinds of programs as many of us have been in our own practices, and we need water fluoridation. This does not have to be an either/or situation. We can chose to fluoridate our water, and still make efforts to address the other contributory factors.
A second mistaken argument surrounds what other communities have chosen to do.
Much has been made of the fact that some other communities, cities, and countries have chosen not to fluoridate their water. What is often missing from this discussion is that water fluoridation is simply one of a number of strategies for providing supplemental fluoride to a population whose water sources do not provide the demonstrated optimal amount for prevention of decay. Because other communities have adopted other strategies does not in any way mean that water fluoridation is not the best current option for the City of Davis given that we are unlikely to have readily available, single payer, universal health and dental care provision in the foreseeable future as many of these countries do.
Adoption of water fluoridation does not preclude anyone from providing what they consider to be the best option for their own family. However, not fluoridating the water will mean that many in our community will not be receiving optimal and safe levels of fluoride for primary prevention of the common problem of tooth decay.
My advocacy for water fluoridation stems from my interest in primary prevention as an effective way of strengthening individuals and communities. The less time and money that is diverted from the productive activities of school, work, recreational and community activities to sit in a dentist chair for the repair of cavities, the more productive will be the individual and the stronger the community. A guiding principle in health care both individual and public is to assess the risk benefit ratio of any policy before implementation.
As an initially neutral party in this debate, after many hours spent assessing the claims of each side, I arrived at the conclusion that in the case of water fluoridation for Davis, the benefits far outweigh the potential demonstrated risks. It is this, and only this consideration that leads me to conclude that the decision by the City Council to fluoridate the water would be the best option for Davis at this point in time.