U.S. healthcare groups push water fluoridation campaign

2009 05 27 13 52 13 808 Girl Pain 70

In response to what some say is a growing body of "misinformation" from antifluoride activists, three national healthcare organizations on Tuesday launched the Campaign for Dental Health, designed to educate the public about oral health and the need for U.S. states and communities to invest in water fluoridation and other forms of prevention.

Voices for America's Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Pew Children's Dental Campaign are among the organizations partnering on the new campaign, but more than 20 state and national organizations are participating, according to Pew.

"As a country, we have made great strides in oral health for our kids," said Bill Bentley, president and CEO of Voices for America's Children, in a press conference announcing the campaign. "But as a country, we are still letting our children down. Some 16.5 million kids go without dental care every year in the U.S., and children are most susceptible to tooth decay."

“Antifluoride activists are using a number of arguments that misrepresent what the research says.”
— Shelley Gehshan, director, Children's
     Dental Health Campaign

The campaign will provide reliable, scientific information about oral health through its new website, iLikeMyTeeth.org, with particular emphasis on water fluoridation. The website will also link to FluorideScience.org, another site that will soon go public, providing policymakers and health officials with concise, reliable reviews of the research on fluoride.

"Water fluoridation is largely responsible for a tremendous decline in tooth decay among our children," Bentley said. "Simply put, it's a no-brainer. It helps the community protect its teeth without demanding people change their lifestyles, and it pays for itself through savings in Medicaid."

Currently, 72% of Americans whose homes are connected to public water systems receive drinking water that is fluoridated. Yet less than half of residents in nine states -- Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey , Oregon, and Wyoming -- have access to fluoridated water. In all, more than 70 million Americans lack access to fluoridated water.

Although the overall rate of fluoridation continues to rise, a small but determined band of antifluoride activists is actively pressing communities not to fluoridate. These activists are using the Internet to raise unfounded fears and spread misinformation, ignoring the evidence showing that fluoridation is a safe, effective strategy.

"We are in an era where states and local budgets are under a tremendous strain, and communities need to ensure that what they are funding provides the most bang for the buck. Water fluoridation certainly does that," said Shelley Gehshan, director of the Children's Dental Health Campaign at the Pew Center on the States. "However, over the years there has a been a persistent effort by a very small group of activists to circulate inaccurate information and misleading facts to try and stop communities from fluoridating and roll back fluoridation in communities that already have it. And some communities wrongly believe they will save money by cutting fluoridation, but studies have shown that they will spend more in the long run."

In fact, elected officials in several communities from Alaska to Florida have voted recently to end water fluoridation. Some of these votes were prompted by unfounded fears about safety or the desire to save tax dollars -- a goal that is dispelled by evidence showing that most cities save $38 for every dollar spent on fluoridation, according to Pew.

"Public policy decisions about health should be based on sound science," Gehshan said. "Antifluoride activists are using a number of arguments that misrepresent what the research says. Opponents have tried to raise fears about fluoridation's safety by citing foreign studies of fluoride levels that were at least two or three times higher than the level used to fluoridate U.S. public water systems."

For the past 65 years, communities across the U.S. have been supplementing naturally occurring fluoride in their water supplies to reach a level considered sufficient to promote oral health, especially among children. The fluoride level long recommended by health officials to prevent caries has been set at a range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of water. Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed the level be set at 0.7 mg/L of water.

Water that is fluoridated at the optimum level, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is something parents can have confidence in, added Mary Brown, MD, former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Board of Directors.

"The AAP and others who have joined this campaign are concerned by the frightening messages that are being communicated to the public about water fluoridation," she said.

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