It was only a matter of time. The tea party has risen up in Pinellas County and ensured that kids who live there will face a lifetime of dental problems, risky oral infections and big hits to their wallets, all done in the name of moral blindness and scientific stupidity. They have gotten the county commissioners to agree to take fluoride out of the water supply.
Pinellas County provides water to about 700,000 people. Like most Americans, those people, particularly children, have benefited from the addition of fluoride to the water supply. The rate of tooth decay in the United States, Europe and many other nations has fallen dramatically, between 18 to 40 percent, since the prefluoride days of many decades ago. Dentists and scientists know why — fluoridation.
Cavities are not just a minor nuisance. They lead to the loss of teeth, chewing problems, dangerous infections that can kill, and ultimately to a lousy quality of life as you get older and cannot eat. Since access to dental care in America is crummy, this is a huge problem.
Too many kids don't learn to practice good oral hygiene, a whole bunch eat too much sugary food and way too many live in families that cannot afford to see a dentist at all. For them, fluoridation is far and away their best hope.
Yet, despite overwhelming evidence that fluoridation is safe, it somehow remains controversial.
Aside from some tooth discoloration, which may be able to be fixed by lowering the amount of fluoride used, there is no health risk. In January, in response to the cosmetic issue, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a proposal to change the recommended fluoride level to 0.7 milligrams per liter of water. That's down from a range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter, the standard since 1962, reported the Associated Press.
The fears of the far-right John Birchers of yesteryear, the spiritual forefathers of the tea party of today, have not proven true. No one has grown a second head, had his or her pure bodily fluids corrupted or become a dupe of the Soviet Union or its rapacious capitalist successor Russia due to fluoride in the water.
What we are left with is kids being harmed by know-nothing ignorance from a group of people more interested in talk of freedom than the facts of science and public health. Morally, fluoridation is something we do to help one another and to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Apparently the tea party of Pinellas County, and the county commissioners who bought their drivel, do not give a damn about either.
Art Caplan, Ph.D., director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author or editor of 29 books and more than 500 journal publications.