THE KIDS ARE GETTING MORE CAVITIES, UAA STUDY SHOWS
Four out of five Americans have access to optimally fluoridated water, according to Healthy People 2020. That figure comes from Assistant Professor of Health Sciences Jennifer Meyer.
But Alaska underperforms that national norm by a large margin that has gotten even larger. Access to optimally fluoridated water in Alaska communities dropped from 60 percent to 42 percent in the decade from 2007 to 2017.
Among the communities without fluoridated drinking water is Juneau, which voted to end community water fluoridation in 2007.
The capital city’s decision to remove fluoride intrigued Dr. Meyer and was the impetus for her recently published paper about the impacts on children and adolescents eligible for Medicaid.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified community water fluoridation as one of the top 10 most important and effective public health interventions of the last century,” said Meyer. “That’s why I was interested in looking at the community effects of removing it. Also, as a mom with a newborn, I was concerned about my son growing up without optimally fluoridated water and what that might mean for his future oral health.”
In the study, Meyer and her co-author, oral health epidemiologist, dentist, and Walden University faculty member Dr. Vasileios Margaritis, examined the Medicaid dental claims records of two groups of children and adolescents aged 18 or younger.
Group 1 consisted of 853 patients who filed Medicaid dental claims in 2003, four years before Juneau’s removal of fluoride. This group represented what the researchers considered optimal exposure to community water fluoridation.
On the opposite end was group 2, representing patients living under sub-optimal community water fluoridation conditions. This group was 1,052 patients with Medicaid dental claims records from 2012, well after Juneau’s fluoride cessation.
The age group that underwent the most dental caries procedures and incurred the highest caries treatment costs on average were those born after Juneau stopped adding fluoride to the water supply.
For many children and their parents, the idea of having to visit the dentist one extra time each year isn’t a welcome one. Meyer estimated that the average inflation-adjusted cost of each additional cavity procedure was approximately $300 per year for each child in this young cohort.
“We thought that cost was a good proxy for severity,” said Meyer. “There’s also broader community cost because the children analyzed in the study were on Medicaid and that is a taxpayer-funded program.”
[Editor’s note: 1,052 Medicaid recipients multiplied by $300 per year is a cost of $315,600 per year for Juneau’s Medicaid enrolled children.]
Despite Dr. Meyer’s study, Juneau officials remain unswayed. In a story published one month after the release of the research, The Juneau Empire relayed that the capital had no plans to reintroduce fluoride into the community’s drinking water.
Condensed from a story written by Matt Jardin, UAA Office of University Advancement, and used with permission under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 4.0 International License. This story appeared Feb. 5, 2019 at UAA’s Green and Gold website.