The Clark County Combined Health District may ask voters to fluoridate the public water supply in Springfield this year, which health officials say will improve dental health for more than 85,000 residents.
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 most recent Community Health Assessment completed in 2016.
The city commission could vote on placing the initiative on the ballot on Jan. 30. It’s possible the issue could be placed on either the May or November ballot, Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said.
“The sooner we can begin fluoridation, the sooner we can begin affording our citizens what 80 percent of citizens already have,” Patterson said.
About 85 percent of Ohio residents have access to fluoridated water, Patterson said. Springfield is the largest of 22 Ohio cities without fluoridated water, he said.
A report from the state health department says seven of the 11 worst counties for children’s oral health in 2012 were located in Applachia, he said. Clark County is among the other four counties, including Fayette, Knox and Marion counties, Patterson said.
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“If I look at those counties, none of them have major cities like Springfield,” he said. “The fact that we don’t have fluoridated water could definitely be causing that issue.”
Community water fluoridation is a social justice issue, Patterson said.
“If we want to do what’s right by our most at-risk children then we should look at giving the citizens another opportunity at making this decision,” he said.
In 2015, the No. 1 complaint among patients at the Springfield Regional Medical Center emergency room was oral health pain, Patterson said.
“That’s why we do surveys because that’s not what we would’ve guessed,” he said.
As part of the Community Health Improvement Plan, the community set a goal to examine fluoridation of water in both Springfield and New Carlisle, Patterson said. After researching the issue, the Clark County Board of Health voted to support the issue last year, he said.
The Centers for Disease Control, the American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and “hundreds of other organizations” say fluoridation is appropriate for local communities, Patterson said. The CDC says community water fluoridation is one of the top-10 achievements in public health of the 20th century, he said.
“We’re in the 21st century and we don’t have this,” Patterson said.
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. About 25 percent of cavities can be prevented with fluoridated water, Patterson said.
“The savings of any dollars spent on fluoride is multiplied many times for the oral health problems we prevent,” he said.
In 2016, more than 50 dentists supported community water fluoridation, he said.
Dental care is also a big need in Clark County, where there is one dentist per every 2,190 residents in Clark County, according to the 2017 County Health Rankings. That’s well below the state average ratio of 1,690 residents per 1 dentist. There is currently a dental health professional shortage in Clark County, he said.
“Another way to address that (shortage) is to reduce (cavities) right up front,” Patterson said.
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.
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.
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 city commissioner Joyce Chilton was directed to several websites by residents who have concerns about fluoride being poisonous, she said.
Patterson expects to have opposition to the proposal, similar to what happened 13 years ago, he said. Residents must look at reputable websites, such as the CDC or the Health Resources Services Association, for information on the topic, he said.
“We listen to them when it comes to flu, we listen to them when it comes to other communicable diseases,” Patterson said. “Get your information from people or websites and entities you’ve heard of before and have a good reputation on other topics.”
About 92 percent of community water supplies in Ohio have fluoride in the water, according to a report from the ADA. Some communities have had fluoridated water for more than 50 years, the report said.
Over 214 million Americans — about 75 percent of the U.S. population — live in communities which supply fluoridated water, according to the CDC.
“It’s really a foregone conclusion that Springfield needs fluoride,” Patterson said. “Why people continue to fight it, I don’t know. You can probably find a website to direct you to anything you want.”
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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 Clark County 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.