A water fluoridation tale of two cities - Oral Health Watch

A well-regarded Australian newspaper published a compelling article that illustrates the real and tangible benefits of community water fluoridation. The Sydney Morning Herald profiled oral health professional Jennifer James, a dental therapist who has treated the children of two communities 100 miles west of Sydney for 40 years.

The towns of Bathurst and Oberon are a mere 30 miles apart, but Oberon, which does not fluoridate its water, has double the number of cavities than its fluoridating neighbor Bathurst. The result, according to James, is a “clear-cut case of the haves and have-nots.”

“The difference out here working is that you see twice as much tooth decay in children, twice as many fillings, twice as many extractions. That is a comparison we can make weekly in Bathurst and Oberon,” said James, who works for New South Wales Ministry of Health.

Oberon choosing not to fluoridate its drinking water is an outlier in the Australian state of New South Wales, according to the Sydney Morning News. An overwhelming majority – 97 percent of residents – in New South Wales have access to fluoridated water.

Drinking water with the optimal level of fluoride can have a profound impact on underserved, lower-income and rural communities. The Sydney Morning Herald article highlighted that the town of Oberon has no dentist. So, while Oberon families with more means are able to travel to other communities for preventive oral health care, James said, many lower-income families are not so fortunate because they’re unable to take time off work or cannot afford the gas and other related travel costs.

“Every child has a right to the best dental care.” – Jennifer James

The limited oral health care access coupled with the lack of optimally fluoridated water leaves communities like Oberon even more vulnerable to painful cavities and tooth loss, Australian dentists say. And, they added, the traumatic experience of painful decay and tooth extractions can have lasting impacts on children and adults.

Like the United States, Australian communities have added optimal levels of fluoride to public drinking water to improve public health for decades. The result has been a significant decline in cavities and more children and adults retaining their original teeth.

Like in the U.S., there’s broad support for fluoridation in Australia. Throughout the world, health organizations and agencies, dentists, hygienists, doctors and other health professionals support community water fluoridation because it strengthens tooth enamel and helps prevent decay for everyone with teeth.

More than 70 years of practical application based on research has proven that drinking fluoridated water is beneficial. In fact, with more than 3,000 studies and research papers published confirming the efficacy of community fluoridated water, few health topics have been as comprehensively researched.

The article concluded with James announcing her retirement and optimism that Oberon will one day provide its residents of all ages and income levels the preventive benefits of community water fluoridation, and in turn, good oral health.

Said James, “Every child has a right to the best dental care.”


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