Dentists and children's health advocates in California are cheering a decision to add fluoride to the drinking water of San Jose _ the largest city in the nation without the cavity-fighting mineral in its water supply.
The board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District voted Tuesday to support fluoridation for most of the county. The district provides drinking water to 1.5 million residents in several cities in Silicon Valley.
"I'm elated," Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said after the 7-0 vote, reported the San Jose Mercury News (http://bit.ly/v7KIh1). "It has been my hope that this would happen."
Supporters say fluoridated water reduces tooth decay and benefits low-income children and the elderly who do not have regular access to dental care. Critics argue adding fluoride is too costly. They say the mineral also can have adverse health effects, including fluorosis, a dental condition caused by too much fluoride. In extreme cases, fluorosis can cause discoloration and pitting of tooth enamel.
"When you fluoridate the water, childhood tooth decay drops 40 percent and among the elderly, tooth loss and decay drops 70 percent," said Dr. Donald Lyman, of the state Department of Public Health.
But Maureen Jones of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water in San Jose said fluoride has nothing to do with high rates of cavities and root canals experienced by low-income children in and around San Jose.
"The parents are uneducated," Jones said. "They are bedding down children with bottles of fruit juice and soda. That's an educational issue. It has nothing to do with fluoride."
About 21 percent of county residents already have fluoridated water, including those living in Palo Alto, which receives water from San Francisco's Hetch Hetchy system. Nationwide, 72 percent of residents have fluoride in their drinking water.
A combination of issues has slowed San Jose in adopting fluoridation. They include a mix of providers, wells and treated water. The municipal water system, which serves roughly 12 percent of the city's population, already contains fluoride.
It's expected to take at least a year before the district can secure funding to add fluoride to the water. The project is expected to cost $4.4 million to $9.5 million, with annual operating expenses at $836,000.
The board voted Tuesday to work with community groups to find funding.
Information from: San Jose Mercury News, http://www.sjmercury.com