Alternatives to Water Fluoridation
J.T. Thomas, 6, of Cornish bites into an apple as a pre-dinner snack on Wednesday. Thomas brushes his teeth twice daily and takes a daily fluoride tablet to protect his teeth. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Dentists and pediatricians said they’d like to see more Upper Valley towns put fluoride in their drinking water. Doing so has been shown to decrease tooth decay by around 15 percent, according a wide-ranging review of water fluoridation studies by The University of York.
But even if every public water system were to adopt such programs, many people would still not benefit because they get their water from private wells.
For those residents, health professionals say, there are other ways to protect their tooth enamel.
First, they should have their water tested. Fluoride occurs naturally in many water supplies and, in some cases, at high enough levels where it may offer some protection, said Steve Chapman, medical director at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Boyle Community Pediatrics Program.
“For example, most wells in the Grantham area have fluoride in it,” he said. “It’s just part of the Earth’s crust. It’s naturally occurring.”
Both Vermont and New Hampshire have state programs that will pay for the test for households with young children.
If there is no fluoride in the water supply, supplements may be prescribed for children over the age of 6 months. Fluoride drops are used beginning at that age and chewable tablets can be prescribed once the child has teeth and begins eating solid food.
Also, fluoride varnishes can be done for children who are at risk. The varnish is a topical treatment, like a paste, that is applied to teeth using a small brush.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center has a program that offers fluoride varnishes to children, and Chapman said he would like to work with more day care centers and schools to provide the treatments.
There are some school-based programs that offer fluoride treatments. Upper Valley Smiles, a program at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, goes out into schools to provide classroom education, free dental screenings, fluoride varnish and sealant applications.
That program goes into elementary schools in Lebanon, Enfield, Canaan, and Hartford, the Richards School in Newport, Indian River Middle School, and Mascoma Valley High School.
However, Chapman said, these efforts are far from foolproof in protecting children’s teeth. Fluoride is just one part of the equation. Children still need to brush, eat non-sugary foods and get regular dental care.
“Just as buckling your seat belt will never be an ironclad guarantee that you’ll never be injured driving your car. You can still get in an accident, but it will help,” he said. “And community water fluoridation will help too.”
Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.