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Health board flays fluoride decision

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The Salt Lake City/County Board of Health Thursday lashed out against a Salt Lake County Commission decision to keep fluoridation off the ballot. Describing Utah children's teeth as "deplorable" and "appalling," panelists vowed the issue would be back.

Salt Lake County Commissioner Mary Callaghan, who with Commissioner Brent Overson voted not to place the issue on the ballot, abstained from the health-board vote to issue a statement protesting the commission's decision and calling for education and expansion of access to fluoride. Callaghan sits on the health board in her role as county commissioner.The rest of the board supported the statement.

"We as a board of health have concluded that standardizing the fluoridation levels of our county water supplies is the only practical way to positively affect the horrendous caries rate in our children's teeth," said the statement, prepared and read by area dentist and board member Anthony Tidwell.

"We know it to be safe, extremely economical and the only effective way to help all our children and adults avoid the diseases associated with dental decay, such as abscesses and periodontal disease. A healthy dentition is the only way to eat healthy. A poor diet leads to a myriad of stomach ailments from ulcers and polyps to cancer."

Tidwell said Utah has one of the worst cavity rates in the country, which he called "appalling."

Dr. Lucy Osborn, a pediatrician and board member, didn't mince words either. Calling the rate of dental caries "deplorable," she said that "children don't really have a choice."

"There's not a dentist in the country who doesn't deplore the rate of decay. It's an incredible public-health issue, and it's up to us to protect the health and safety of our children," Osborn said.

She added, "I don't see how board members can be anything but disturbed and upset with the way this has gone."

The board's statement refers to dental decay as a "preventable disease, much like polio or measles."

"As with polio or measles, we can essentially inoculate our children to make their teeth stronger using the proper doses of fluoride. Fluoride also strengthens bones. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that does not cause allergies, nor is it a poison when used at appropriate levels."

The statement notes that the County Commission chose not to put the issue to the voters and said "the consensus is that an initiative petition is not only impractical but is not allowable by law."

The board said it doesn't want to engage in politics. "If our efforts to make a presentation to our commissioners go unheeded, then the only recourse left to us is to support and encourage more education of our citizens. We hope that this issue will be reconsidered in the near future."

Until it is, the board said that parents should give their children fluoride tablets and schools should continue and expand fluoride-rinse programs.

And members asked that Medicaid and insurance programs put more money into seeing that children whose families cannot afford fluoride - or the decay its lack causes - have ready access to the mineral.

"Preventing small cavities in our children will prevent a lifetime of complications resulting from poor dental health," the statement concluded.

A Deseret News poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates in the spring found that 92 percent of people statewide want to vote on the issue. And most of those polled - 65 percent - said they would favor fluoridation of the water.