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December 27, 2011 > Water district board supports dental health

Water district board supports dental health

Submitted By Director Richard Santos

San Jose is the largest city in the nation without a fully fluoridated drinking water system. In fact, only a few communities in our county have fluoridated water.

Last month, the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors took a major step to increase the percentage of county residents receiving fluoridated tap water. We voted unanimously to fluoridate at our three water treatment plants and three district-owned water supply wells. These plants supply seven water retailers in Santa Clara County who deliver the water directly to homes and businesses.

This decision came after months of studying the issue and receiving public input. We have received impassioned testimony from dozens of proponents and opponents of fluoridation. The debate has been constructive and supremely educational for our board-we appreciate and have listened to every voice.

Many have asked why we made this decision. The evidence that fluoridation reduces tooth decay is overwhelming. Thousands of studies have been conducted that show the effectiveness of tooth decay reduction.

We were struck by the fact that water fluoridation is highly effective in preventing decay in baby teeth, especially in children from low socio-economic backgrounds. While there are other alternatives to fluoridation, in the real world, none of them come close to the effectiveness of water fluoridation. We were struck by the fact that the status of dental health in Santa Clara County is dismal, especially among poor children with limited access to preventative dental care.

We heard that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) count fluoridation as one of the ten most important public health achievements of the 20th century.

In fact, the CDC, the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and the World Health Organization unequivocally support fluoridation.

We learned that the Santa Clara County Public Health Department's 2009 Behavioral Risk Survey found that 64 percent of county residents support fluoridation while 13 percent oppose it.

While fluoridation is required by California law for all public water systems that serve more than 10,000 customers, provided that the funding comes from sources external to the water agency, the water district is the water wholesaler which does not serve more than 10,000 customers. Thus, the state law does not apply.

Nevertheless, we recognize that if the region is to be fluoridated, it is far more economical and efficient for the fluoridation to occur at our three large water treatment plants, rather than operating separate fluoridation systems at each water retailer's connection to our water distribution system.

Our next step is to identify the funding sources. We are committed to working with The Health Trust, the California Dental Association, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, private foundations, and others to secure funding so that water rates will not be impacted. We have formed a board committee to move forward with exploring these options and implementation.

More than two thirds of the population of the United States is serviced by public water systems that are optimally fluoridated. Fluoridation is merely an increase in the level of naturally occurring fluoride that is present in all drinking water sources. The practice has been thoroughly tested for more than 60 years.

Communities that fluoridate have experienced a reduction in tooth decay of 18 to 40 percent, which means fewer children and adults with painful and expensive cavities, abscesses, tooth extractions and root canals.

For more facts about fluoridation, I encourage you to read this report from the American Dental Association: http://www.ada.org/sections/professionalResources/pdfs/fluoridation_facts.pdf.

If you are interested in staying informed about this issue, subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter at http://bit.ly/uBDqnr.

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