The Clark County Combined Health District may ask voters to fluoridate the public water supply in Springfield and New Carlisle next year, which health officials say will improve dental health for more than 85,000 residents.
The Clark County Board of Health voted unanimously last week to pursue the issue. As part of the Community Health Improvement plan, a work group has been formed to decide when the issue may go before voters, Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said, which could be in November of 2017.
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More than 32 percent of Clark County residents have had between one and five permanent teeth removed because of tooth decay or gum disease, according to the Community Health Assessment completed last year.
If approved, the initiative will affect more than 85,000 people in Clark County, as well as the rest of the region through bottled water, Patterson said.
“Very rarely in public health can we do something that we’re not asking to change a behavior, or do something very difficult like quit smoking or lose 40 pounds,” Patterson said. “This intervention doesn’t care if you’re poor or rich, it doesn’t care if you’re black or white. It affects everybody in the same positive way.”
About 85 percent of Ohio residents have access to fluoridated water, Patterson said. Of the 22 Ohio cities without fluoridated water, Springfield is the largest, said district intern Tanya Khan, a first-year medical student who is researching fluoride for the district.
Several communities in Clark County, including Northridge, Medway and Park Layne, add fluoride to their water supply, which affects about 16,000 people, Patterson said.
The district will offset the costs of any equipment needed to fluoridate the water through grants from the Ohio Department of Health.
Dental care is also a big need in Clark County, where there is one dentist per every 2,200 residents in Clark County, according to the 2016 County Health Rankings. That’s well below the state average ratio of 1,170 residents per 1 dentist.
About 38.1 percent of Clark County adults don’t have health insurance, while 14.5 percent of children here have never been to the dentist, Khan said.
In 1969, Ohio legislators passed a law requiring fluoridation of public water supplies that serve more than 5,000 people. However, Springfield voters approved being exempt from the law later that year.
Fluoridation of the public water supply was placed on the ballot in 2005, but was defeated as 57 percent of voters came out against the issue. Many of those opposed expressed concern about adding a potentially toxic chemical to Springfield’s water.
This time around, the district will spend the next year educating the public about the issue, Patterson said. There are many misconceptions about fluoridated water online, he said.
“Unfortunately, not everything posted on the Internet is true,” Patterson said. “Not all of it is factual. We want to deal with facts and reputable sources for those facts. I think that’s going to be the difference.”
Yellow Springs rejected a fluoride measure in 2011, while Xenia has rejected fluoride twice since 2005, according to the Fluoride Action Network, a national group which opposes fluoridated water.
Springfield resident Shirley Whitacre voted against the issue 11 years ago. If put before voters again next year, Whitacre won’t support it this time around either, she said.
“I just feel we’re exposed to enough chemicals,” Whitacre said. “There’s fluoride in toothpaste and you don’t swallow the toothpaste. If you have it in your water, you’re not going to have an opportunity to not digest that.”
By the numbers
32: Percentage of Clark County residents who have had between one and five permanent teeth removed because of tooth decay or gum disease.
38.1: Percentage of Clark County adults who don’t have health insurance.
14.5: Percentage of Clark County children who have never been to the dentist.
Source: 2015 Community Health Assessment
The Springfield News-Sun provides complete coverage of health care in Clark and Champaign counties, including recent stories about senior health rankings and public health funding.
Healthy Springfield: About this series
Many readers responded to a report late last year that ranked Springfield as the least healthy city in Ohio. That response — including wanting to make a positive difference — prompted the Springfield News-Sun to take a closer look at the community’s health. This year, the News-Sun will dig into the public health issues facing the city, including teen pregnancy rates and school lunch programs and efforts to improve them. Next month, the News-Sun will investigate mental health issues in the community.