Letter: Time to take steps for kids' oral health

To the Editor:

February is National Children's Dental Health Month.

The Bennington area continues to have some of the worst oral health outcomes in the State of Vermont with respect to children. Local kindergarten students and third grade students have been found to have among the highest rates of cavities and untreated cavities in Vermont. Young adults all around us provide evidence of how quickly baby teeth can turn into rotted, painful stumps.

There are a number of ways that we can improve kids' oral health at the local level. The Bennington Oral Health Coalition has worked diligently on this issue for more than three years. BOHC provides oral health education and distributes toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss throughout the community at schools, after school programs, and community events. BOHC also works with classroom teachers to set up daily tooth brushing sessions in-school and provides the supplies to do so. The local Tooth Tutor program provides ongoing in-school oral health education in our elementary schools. We all try to educate parents and other adults about the importance of brushing, flossing, reducing soda intake, and regular trips to the dentist. We all try to connect families of children with dental homes and the good news is that there are now more choices than ever between private dental practices, the dental clinic at Battenkill Valley Health Care, and the newly opened dental suite at Southwest Vermont Medical Center.

What we have failed to do is provide our children with the benefits of fluoridated water.

This week marks the 73rd anniversary of when Grand Rapids, Michigan became the first city in the world to fluoridate its public water system.

Once the city commission approved the decision to fluoridate, the decay trends of Grand Rapids children were assessed under a study that was originally sponsored by the U.S. Surgeon General. Over the course of the 15 year study, researchers examined the rate of tooth decay among the nearly 30,000 school children in Grand Rapids. They discovered that after only 11 years, the decay rate for children born after fluoridation began fell by more than 60 percent. This finding was strengthened by the fact that thousands of kids had been part of this study. Grand Rapids continues to fluoridate its water today using updated scientific information to carefully adjust the level of fluoride in the water to 0.70 parts per million. Ongoing scientific studies demonstrate that positive benefits of fluoridated water continue to outweigh any suggested negative impacts.

It is sad that fluoridation, considered one of the most impactful public health developments of the 20th century, has yet to be adopted by our local community. February is National Children's Dental Health Month. Let's take this month to consider how much more we could be doing for our local children.

Sue Andrews



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