On April 25, the Water Advisory Committee (WAC) of Davis met to debate the matter of fluoridating the water in the City of Davis.
Since Measure I was passed in mid-March, the WAC has been recreating the Yolo County water system. This led to a decision to construct a new surface water plant — an upgrade that will run in addition to the city’s existing groundwater plants.
The proposed construction of this plant, which is slated to be in operation by August 2016, has prompted the WAC to reconsider fluoridating the water in Davis while cost has been prohibitive in the past.
According to California Assembly Bill 733, which was passed in 1995, as long as there is funding available, a city must fluoridate its water if it has more than 10,000 residents.
However, in the past, according to Dianne Jensen, principal civil engineer with the Davis Public Works Department, “water fluoridation has been ranked at [something like] 136 out of 166” of the city’s spending priorities.
The way that the new surface water plant is being built would allow the possibility to add water fluoridation in the future, if the Water Advisory Committee decides not to fluoridate the new plant as of now.
The addition of fluoridation capabilities to the surface water plant would cost an estimated $600,000, but according to Jensen, a firm estimate will not be available until June.
Yolo County Health Director and member of the fluoridation subcommittee Jill Cook estimates that water fluoridation will cost between 30 cents and $4 per person every year.
In West Sacramento, water fluoridation costs approximately 38 cents per person annually. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that every dollar spent on community water fluoridation saves $38 in dental treatment.
The City of Sacramento has been fluoridating its water for over a decade now, while Sacramento County adopted the practice only a few years ago.
Local dentist and member of the fluoridation subcommittee Kim Wallace said that the City of Sacramento has considered dropping their water fluoridation program to reduce costs.
“[The Sacramento] City Council decided it was worth continuing, despite their budgetary problems,” Wallace said.
Wallace believes that the estimated $600,000 it will take to initiate water fluoridation in Davis is a small fraction of the cost of the approximately $245 million project and that it is well worth it.
According to Wallace, an argument has been made that because the citizens of Davis are typically of an above-average socioeconomic status, they are more likely to be able to afford dental services and have dental insurance, so citywide fluoridation may be less necessary than in other places.
“We can’t drill our way out of this problem. Just one filling between the back teeth costs $230 at my practice,” Wallace said.
Constance Caldwell, a Yolo County health officer, agreed with Wallace.
“Fluoridation of the public water supply is a matter of health equity. Not everyone has dental insurance, but everyone can drink tap water,” Caldwell said. “The CDC, the United States Surgeon General and state and local health departments throughout the country have long supported fluoridation of public water supplies.”
In the past, there have been rumblings about water fluoridation being detrimental to health, but Wallace strongly believes that there is “overwhelming evidence” that supports the benefits.
“[Water fluoridation] has been adopted at all levels of organized dentistry, as well as the school board, the UC Davis Medical Center, Sutter Health and the state of California,” Wallace said.
The CDC has included water fluoridation as one of the top 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Cook recognizes the additional cost, but said that the fluoridation of drinking water offers a “high-achieving return on investment that has long been proven to prevent chronic dental decay.”
While the current debate is about fluoridating water in Davis, as Woodland is part of Yolo County, Cook believes that Woodland may be looking toward the decision that is made in Davis as a point of reference for their own water fluoridation program, although it is not on the agenda yet.
According to Wallace, water fluoridation is a common practice in countries outside of the United States, such as Ireland, Australia and Britain. Other countries even fluoridate milk or salt. In the United States, it has been done regularly for 68 years.
The WAC will hold another panel on May 23 in which the disadvantages of water fluoridation will be presented, and a final decision will be made at a meeting in June.
WAC meetings are held on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Chambers at 23 Russell Blvd.
TAYLOR CUNNINGHAM can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.