JUNEAU — Alaska’s capital stopped fluoridating its tap water about 12 years ago, and a new study says Juneau’s children are paying a price.
Public health researcher Jennifer Meyer studied Medicaid dental claims before and after fluoride was removed, KTOO reported. The lack of fluoride has increased dental costs for families with children under 6 years old, she said.
There has been additional treatment for caries, the decay or crumbling of a tooth.
“By taking the fluoride out of the water supply. the trade-off for that is children are going to experience one additional caries procedure per year, at a ballpark (cost) of $300 more per child.”
Meyer studied Medicaid dental claims for two years that were filed for children in Juneau's main ZIP code. She reviewed a year's worth of data before fluoride went away and a year's worth five years after fluoride was removed, for about 1,900 children in all.
Children under 6, when the water was fluoridated, averaged about one-and-a-half cavity-related procedures per year. After fluoride was gone, that went up to about two-and-a-half procedures a year. Older children saw a less dramatic increase.
"The cost to have a fluoride management program, to actually fluoridate the water, is pennies by comparison to what it costs to treat a cavity," Meyer said.
Parents can get prescriptions for fluoride tablets, she said, but it can be a headache. They have to remember to fill the prescription, administer the fluoride and make sure children do not take too much.
Meyer's study was published in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Oral Health.
The study did not change the opinion of David Ham, who pushed to take fluoride out of Juneau's water in 2006.
"I believe I have the right to have a public water supply that is pure and to decide for myself what medicines I wish to take, and I just don't wish to be exposed to a toxic chemical, fluoride," he said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, European Union and other government and medical institutions say low levels of fluoride in drinking water are safe.
"My issue is that we're asking the wrong question here, you know? . And let's get to the root cause and put a tax on sugary drinks and all of these other things, or do whatever we can to support good health through good diet," Ham said.
He called fluoridation “a Band-Aid” fix.