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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Local group launches effort to fluoridate Wichita’s water

By Amy Renee Leiker
The Wichita Eagle

A local organization fighting for healthy teeth among Wichitans says it plans to present a petition for fluoridation of Wichita’s water supply to the City Council later this year.

Armed with more than 2,500 signatures on a two-inch stack of petitions, local dentist Dr. Sara Meng announced Thursday evening that Wichitans for Healthy Teeth would continue seeking support from residents who want the chemical added to the city’s drinking water in hopes of improving dental health.

“We want to see 2012 be the year that we all stand up for healthy teeth and fluoridating our water,” she said during a news conference.

“The citizens of Wichita have been waiting for a long, long, time for their city government and their community leaders to provide them with proven form of health prevention. We here today to call for an end to that wait and ask for our city leaders to act.”

Thursday’s event signaled the kickoff of Wichitans for Healthy Teeth, a volunteer coalition educating the public about the benefits of fluoride and seeking grassroots support for adding the chemical to Wichita’s drinking water. It is supported by nearly 500 local dentists and health providers and about 50 state and local organizations, Meng said.

The group plans to seek at least 6,300 signatures before presenting its petition to the City Council.

Wichita pediatrician Dr. Larry Hund said Thursday that Wichitans could save an estimated $4.5 million a year in dental bills if the water were fluoridated.

“To me this is a no-brainer. I think fluoride is effective and safe,” he said. “…I think this campaign is going to fulfill a need in the community.”

Wichita has .3 parts per million of naturally occurring fluoride in its water, said Jon Rosell, executive director of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County, an organization representing local physicians. Wichitans for Healthy Teeth wants to more than double that number to .7 parts per million, bumping the chemical to “therapeutic levels,” Rosell said.

Wichita is the fourth-largest unfluoridated city in the U.S. without fluoride in its water.

Studies show fluoride reduces cavities in children, oral disease in seniors and tooth decay among the general population when added to the water supply, Meng said. Fluoridation is supported by several national health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control. The initiative also drew support from Derby this week when its City Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the addition of fluoride to Wichita’s water. Derby is Wichita’s largest water customer.

“Community water fluoridation has proven for over 60 years to be a safe, inexpensive and effective way to prevent decay,” said Meng, who chairs the organization. “We would strongly prefer to prevent decay rather than treat decay.”

With the push for fluoridation in full force, some Wichitans have received messages and robo-calls from anti-fluoridation groups from around the country who claim adding fluoride to municipal water supplies does more harm than good, especially for those who are at low risk for dental decay. At least two groups in Kansas – Wichitans for Pure Water and Fluoride Free Kansas – oppose the push.

A spokesman for Wichitans for Pure Water was not available for comment Thursday afternoon. The group’s partner, Fluoride Free Kansas, could not be reached.

Petitions are available at Mid-Kansas Pediatrics locations in Wichita. More information about fluoridation is available at www.wichitansforhealthyteeth.org. You can also follow the initiative on Wichitans for Healthy Teeth’s Facebook page or on Twitter at @ICTeeth.

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com.

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