- By Michael Cooper Staff Writer
Increasing the minimum age for purchasing cigarettes to 21 and adding fluoride to Springfield’s water could be ways to improve health in Springfield and Clark County.
The Clark Combined Health District released its goals for improving the overall health of the community as part of the 2016 Community Health Improvement Plan at the Springfield Center of Innovation: The Dome on Tuesday morning.
The plan will serve as a road map for the health community over the next three years, Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said.
The process began in late January with the release of the Community Health Assessment. That included seven task forces —tobacco, chronic disease, mental health, substance abuse, physical activity, healthy births and sexuality, and nutrition – that met over the past two months to create a living document for the next three years.
“We’re not finished here today,” Patterson said.
A ballot issue for the fluoridation of water 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.
More than a decade later, Patterson said he’s ready to resume the discussion.
Springfield is the largest municipality in Ohio without fluoridated water. New Carlisle also doesn’t fluoridate its water. Northridge uses city water that’s then fluoridated by Clark County, Patterson said.
By fluoridating the water, Patterson said it would decrease the large number of Springfield residents with tooth decay. More than 32 percent of Clark County residents have had between one and five permanent teeth removed because of tooth decay or gum disease, Patterson said.
Community water fluoridation is a best practice to reduce cavities, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“It’s something that we certainly need to work on,” Patterson said.
There is a rampant tooth decay problem in Springfield, said local dentist Dr. Kevin P. Cochran, who has served in Springfield for 21 years at 253 Hampton Place.
By adding fluoride to the water, it creates a more resistant form of enamel for children forming teeth, Cochran said. Locally doctors provide fluoride supplement through drops or vitamins or apply fluoride varnish, he said.
Recently Cochran removed all of the teeth from a 2-year-old. Dental education for parents, including what they provide children to drink, is key, he said.
“The fluoride is going to help resist some of that so maybe they have a better fighting chance, but it’s really education (that’s needed),” Cochran said.
The Rocking Horse Community Health Center currently provides fluoride varnish to children between the ages of six months and 3 years at well check visits, CEO Chris Cook said.
As part of an $8 million expansion in 2013, Rocking Horse added a dental clinic to its facility on South Limestone Street. The organization applied for a grant earlier this year to provide money to open the dental clinic. If successful, the clinic could open this fall, Cook said.
There is one dentist per every 2,200 residents in Clark County, according to the 2016 County Health Rankings — well below the state average ratio of 1,170 residents per 1 dentist.
“We know the need is there,” Cook said.
About 23 percent of Clark County residents are smokers and more than 20 percent of middle school students have already tried a cigarette, according to the health district.
Five cities in Ohio — including Cleveland, Bexley and Grandview — have enacted a Tobacco 21 ordinance, said Public Health educator Sarah Dahlinghaus. That would increase the minimum age for buying cigarettes to 21, which she said could stop 18-year-olds for purchasing tobacco products for younger friends. The goal is to implement the ordinance by March of 2019.
“It’s a very successful strategy,” Dahlinghaus said.
The health district has yet to engage either its Board of Health or Springfield City Commissioners about fluoridating the water or increasing the minimum smoking age to 21. City commissioners have the authority to pass the ordinance without a public vote or can opt to place the ordinances on the ballot, Patterson said.
The task forces set 24 total goals as part of the improvement plan.
By March of 2019, the Clark County Substance Abuse Prevention Treatment and Support Coalition hopes to reduce the number of fatal overdoses by 75 percent. There were 74 overdose deaths last year, according to McKinley Hall Chief Executive Officer Wendy Doolittle. By achieving the goal, the number would have to be reduced to 19 annually.
The plan is a living document that can be changed over time, Patterson said.