By Mary Spicer
A request to add fluoride to the City of Meadville’s municipal water system will be on the agenda Monday night when Meadville Area Water Authority gathers for its monthly meeting, which will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the authority’s administrative offices at 18160 Rogers Ferry Road in Vernon Township. The meeting is open to the public.
Representing a group that has spent the past year exploring the possibility of having fluoride added to Meadville’s water supply, Dr. Denise Johnson, Meadville Medical Center’s chief medical officer, told the Tribune Monday that their report is complete and will be presented to the authority on Monday.
The group came together, Johnson explained, after dental pain or other dental issues ranked as the No. 1 reason for visits to MMC’s emergency department for several years running and a community health needs assessment revealed a significant number of area residents felt they had dental issues — but didn’t consider good dental health care to be available to them.
It is extremely unusual for dental-related issues to rank as the top diagnosis in any ER, Johnson said, noting that even though MMC has recently opened a new medical center for the underserved, the widespread problem was still not being adequately addressed.
“Fluoride is considered basic in cavity prevention,” Johnson said, noting that fluoridation has been named as one of the 10 great public-health achievements of the 20th century by the federal Centers for Disease Control. “Our thought was to look up the benefits of fluoride and present our findings to the water authority.”
One of those findings, according to Johnson, is that fluoridation is cost effective. For example, figures compiled by the CDC and other sources show that every $1 spent on fluoride programs will save $38 in dental care.
“Fluoride is very cheap,” Johnson said. “MAWA estimated it would cost pennies per household per month — less than $3 per year.”
When it comes to improved health for the community, “Fluoride is cheap and easy,” Johnson said. “Community waters have been fluoridated all over the country for more than 65 years. Studies have looked at adverse effects — but haven’t found any.”
While attention is often focused on the impact of fluoride on the dental health of children, Johnson said it also helps adults. As for school-based programs, “by the time you get to elementary school, it’s a little bit late for kids,” she said.
Johnson noted that discussions with local dentists have revealed that when college-age students visit their offices, students from areas where water is fluoridated “have great teeth,” while teeth of students raised in this area “just aren’t very good.”
The group is asking for fluoride to be added at very low levels — far below the levels of naturally-occurring fluoride in water supplies that can result in brown staining on teeth, Johnson said.
“We are anxiously awaiting their presentation,” Tim Groves, who chairs the water authority, said Monday. However, until he hears what the group has to say, Groves is reserving judgment on the fluoride issue. “If you don’t go to the dentist, I can’t see it helping that much,” he said.
In addition to Johnson, members of the committee include Dr. Dennis Finton, a Meadville dentist; Cindy Catlin, who heads the fluoride program in area schools; Dr. Raymond Leung, pediatrician; Dick Astor, former superintendent of Conneaut School District and current member of the MMC board, Mike Downing, chief executive officer of community health services at MMC; Duane Koller of MMC; Caryl Waggett, an environmental science professor at Allegheny; Dave Roncolato, who heads the community service learning program at Allegheny; Richard Friedberg, former Meadville mayor and Allegheny graduate; and two current Allegheny students, Amanda Woodside and Megan King.
“Our goal is to talk to the folks from MAWA on Monday and see where it goes from there,” Johnson said. “We’re excited about it. We think it’s something that needs to be done — and we’re embarrassed that it hasn’t already been done. Our hope is to move forward.”
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.