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Fluoridated water is critical for Utahns

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How long are the citizens of Utah going to listen to misguided claims from the anti-fluoride petitioners? Water fluoridation adjusted to the optimal level in our public drinking water is recognized by national, state and local public health agencies as one of the most important public health achievements of our time.

Salt Lake Valley and Davis County health officers Patti Pavey and Lewis Garrett are thrilled to have finally received the voters' approval to implement fluoride supplementation in their counties' water supplies. Dr. Joseph Miner, Utah County's health officer, calls fluoride supplementation a modern miracle.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has urged all states to adjust the fluoride levels in drinking water to the optimal level to prevent tooth decay. Most states have some fluoride in their water that is naturally occurring. Utah is one of those states, and fluoride levels only need to be adjusted.

Another of the major public health discoveries was adding chlorine to our drinking water. Without chlorine in our drinking water, we would suffer many dreaded illnesses. We have added the chemical chlorine to our culinary water for more than 100 years without ill effects. The results have been a miraculous disease-prevention tool.

Many states have had fluoride levels adjusted in their drinking water for more than 50 years with marvelous results. There is reliable research done by health organizations and other researchers who agree consistently that fluoridation is safe and an inexpensive way to prevent tooth decay. The history of water fluoridation in this country is one of success.

Utah's laws and regulations make it somewhat confusing for the public regarding fluoride. Counties are classified by their population. Salt Lake City is the only county of the first class, with a population over 700,000. Utah, Davis and Weber counties are counties of the second class, with populations between 125,000 and 700,000.

Counties of the third class have populations between 18,000 and 125,000. There are six classes of counties in Title 17, Section 50501, all classified by population.

Two years ago, a group of citizens organized, wrote a bill and lobbied the Legislature to allow second-class counties to put fluoride on the ballot so the citizens in their county could vote yea or nay as to whether they wanted adjusted fluoride levels in their water. Salt Lake County already had the option of doing so for first-class counties. The bill passed, and now any second- and first-class counties could put the issue on their ballot.

Davis County and Salt Lake County have moved rapidly and will have their fluoridated water systems online during 2003. Utah County commissioners did not opt to allow their citizenry to vote, even though they now have that option. They took a wait-and-see stance. Counties can fluoridate without the vote.

However, county commissioners do not seem to want to move on their own. They prefer to have a majority vote from their constituents to fluoridate.

Do we in Utah want to pay a few dollars per person, per year, to adjust the fluoride levels in our water, or do we want to continue to pay large dental bills? Let's not let the anti-fluoride petitioners here in Utah set us back 50 years.

It's time to face our future and do our homework. Tooth decay is unbridled in Utah. Public health advocates call it an epidemic, especially among our low-income people. Medicaid adults just lost their dental insurance coverage, and dental disease is the largest health problem among elementary school children.

The public needs to demand that government officials here in Utah allow fluoridation to happen.

Gayle Judd is the chairman of the Utah County Health Board.