Students and faculty held their tools at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine dressed as the Cat in the Hat, ready to duel oral combat for National Give Kids a Smile Day which providing free screenings, preventive care and tips.
The big goal: raising awareness and improving children’s oral health. The CDC says one in four children under five has cavities and tooth decay is an infectious disease that can kill.
The Rutgers clinic says New Jersey’s lack of fluoride in its water harms half the children who come here. Interim Pediatric Dentistry at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine Chairman Dr. Glenn Rosivack says some young patients’ decay is so bad they need emergency surgery.
“We see the worst dental cavities here because we are a safety net for these children,” said Rosivack. “It truly is a shame that the children of New Jersey, as I said, are showing up in the emergency room, showing up here in our dental clinic, again, with pain, with infections when this could be easily solved.”
Rosivack’s solution: a law to mandate suppliers add fluoride to water. He says every dollar spent fluoridating water saves $38 in dental fillings.
“If there was another epidemic — which dental cavities are an epidemic – the Legislature would be acting on it. But, with this, they’re not,” Rosivack said.
Sen. Joseph Vitale’s bills to require suppliers to add fluoride to their water have languished and then reintroduced. He says he thinks he has the votes now and a governor who would sign the bill into law in a state that ranks almost dead last, 49th in America, in fluoridating its water.
“Now we have an opportunity to do smart public health where states like Kentucky, states down south and the Midwest, who you wouldn’t think are progressive in terms of public health, do this and it works for them,” said Vitale.
Executive Director of the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission Tim Eustace isn’t keen on the legislation. Eustace, who was once the vice chair of the state Assembly Health Committee, says he was opposed to it when he was in the Legislature.
“The idea of adding a chemical to the water for a small portion of the population I think is a mistake. It’s an expensive mistake. Again, we’re charged with removing pollutants from the water not adding pollutants to the water,” Eustace said.
Eustace says 12 to 14 percent of the state’s water supply is fluoridated. Towns across the country have been removing and banning fluoride from their water. Studies contradict each other on fluoridation benefits. Some say it prevents decay. Others say it’s hard to regulate and can lead to learning and thyroid issues, but medical and dental associations insist the science dictates fluoridation.
“The idea of let’s say fluoridating, let’s say 30 billion gallons of clean water is akin to hunting ducks with a howitzer. This is a very specific problem that could be dealt with with toothpaste,” Eustace said.
The debate over fluoridated water in America has raged for years. New Jersey is squarely in the middle of it, and it seems the only change that will take place in this state may come from the lawmakers in Trenton.