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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Groups push to fluoridate Wichita’s water

By Deb Gruver
The Wichita Eagle

The push to fluoridate Wichita’s water is on again with two groups launching campaigns to improve oral health.

Wichitans for Healthy Teeth, a coalition of doctors and dentists, and the Kansas Health Foundation say more fluoride in Wichita’s water would be less costly than treating tooth decay down the road.

The foundation’s campaign starts Wednesday; Wichitans for Healthy Teeth’s starts Friday. The second group plans to take the issue to the Wichita City Council in August. Efforts in the past to fluoridate the city’s water have failed.

Wichita is the fourth-largest city in the country that doesn’t fluoridate its water at levels believed to improve oral health, members of Wichitans for Healthy Teeth said. Fluoride exists naturally in the city’s water – at 0.33 parts per million. The level needs to be at 0.7 parts per million to be useful for oral health, both groups said.

Sara Meng, a Kansas native and Wichita dentist who belongs to Wichitans for Healthy Teeth, said she grew up with fluoridated water in Abilene.

“I have no fillings,” she said, adding that she and other dentists often can tell where someone is from by the health of their teeth.

She said the Wichita District Dental Society is supporting the campaign. So is the Medical Society of Sedgwick County.

Claudia Blackburn, director of the Sedgwick County Health Department, said half of students in kindergarten through eighth grade in Sedgwick County were screened during the 2010 to 2011 school year. About 19 percent of students screened had obvious decay in at least one tooth. About 3.2 percent, or 931 students, had “emergent” dental problems, including decay, abscesses and infections. Those children faced difficulty sleeping and eating and were in pain, Blackburn said. Although dentists often prescribe fluoride tablets to children, children may or may not take them, and fluoridated water is the best way to get the optimal amount of fluoride, Meng said.

Wichitans for Healthy Teeth also stressed that fluoride doesn’t only benefit children. One in five senior citizens in Sedgwick County has lost all of his or her teeth, members said.

The group said fluoridated water could reduce tooth decay in Wichita by 25 percent and save $4.5 million every year in restorative care.

“This isn’t the panacea,” Meng said. “It’s one more cog in the wheel for dental care.”

Wichitans for Healthy Teeth said it is pursuing grant money to offset the infrastructure costs of fluoridating Wichita’s water.

It and the Kansas Health Foundation said that every $1 invested in water fluoridation saves $38 in dental care.

Steve Coen, president and CEO of the foundation, said its fluoride campaign goes hand-in-hand with its Truth About Teeth campaign.

The foundation’s campaign stresses that only an ounce of fluoride in every 5,000 gallons of water would be enough to benefit Wichitans. The campaign reiterates the message “An ounce of prevention, a pound of cure.”

“It’s not very much,” Coen said of the amount of the mineral needed to prevent tooth decay.

“It’s a very inexpensive way to benefit oral health,” he said.

Both groups say they know there will be opponents – people who will argue that fluoride is unsafe, that it’s not necessary in water when people use fluoride toothpaste and that fluoridating water is akin to the government distributing medicine.

Jon Rosell, executive director of the medical society, said that group’s board voted to support fluoridating Wichita’s water because “our physicians stand on the side of solid science and public health.”

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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