LIHUE — Legislators pushing a proposal to add fluoride to Hawaii’s public water systems say it would promote better dental health, but some on Kauai have concerns about cost and implications of fluoridating the water.
The legislation would require major public water suppliers to fluoridate drinking water in Hawaii and for the Department of Health to reimburse water suppliers for expense incurred initially, and provide suppliers with training and technical assistance.
None of Hawaii’s counties fluoridate their water, and Honolulu County banned that practice in 2004. Nationwide, however, fluoride has been in some states’ drinking water for 70 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC says drinking fluoridated water reduces cavities by about 25 percent in children and adults and points out that the practice is recommended by the American Dental Association.
State Sen. Karl Rhoads proposed the legislation and says fluoridating the water would be a safe and cost-effective way to improve Hawaii’s dental health.
Other lawmakers disagree.
“It is so important to get fluoride for dental health, but the cost is tremendous with water fluoridation. Topical fluorides, like toothpaste, is a better option to me,” said Kauai Rep. Dee Morikawa.
She suggested supporting better access to children’s dental health and attending regular dental visits as ways to improve oral health.
“Too much water is used for other purposes, especially on the neighbor islands, and fluoridation would be wasted,” she said.
When Malina Briakadasha, a single Kauai mom of five kids, heard about the proposed legislation, she grew concerned and immediately called Rhoads’ office to find out how to comment on the topic.
She’s concerned that fluoride in the water could negatively impact her family’s health. She strives to live a healthy life and doesn’t chose to use fluoride, but she also opposes the overall concept of state-mandated water fluoridation.
“I think whether or not you drink fluoridated water is a personal choice and I’m offended that the government wants to make that decision for me,” Briakadasha said. “Our water is pretty pure, we have chlorine in it, but this is adding something completely unnecessary.”
Jennifer Edmonds, another Kauai mom, said she and her family go through fluoride treatments at the dentist every six months and she doesn’t think that there’s a need to add it to the drinking water.
“There is no reason for it to go through your whole body, it just needs to be on your teeth,” Edmonds said. “So far, both my kids are cavity-free.”
According to the latest community water fluoridation reports from the CDC, updated in 2016, about 65 percent of the U.S. population gets their water from fluoridated systems.
Throughout the nation, most states have fluoridation systems in city water, but there are communities that don’t allow it; Albuquerque, New Mexico, for instance banned fluoridated water until June, when the governing board approved supplemental fluoridation of the city water supply.
According to the CDC, District of Columbia and Kentucky lead the nation with nearly 100 percent of their population on fluoridated water systems. Following closely are Illinois and Minnesota with 98 percent, Georgia with 96 percent, and North Dakota with 92 percent.
Some of the states with the lowest percentage of their population on fluoridated water systems are New Jersey with 14 percent, Oregon with 22 percent, Idaho with 31 percent, and Utah with 51 percent.
According to a 2014 report, Hawaii had more dentists per capita than any state except Massachusetts but children here have among the worst rates of tooth decay in the country.
One of the reasons for that is Hawaii’s water supply is not fluoridated, except on military bases.
In 2014, The Pew Center gave Hawaii an F grade in its most recent report on how well the state is protecting children from tooth decay. It’s the same grade Hawaii received the previous two years.