In our editorial Friday ("The Problem: Our dental crisis"), we detailed the deteriorating state of oral health in Sonoma County, particularly among low-income children. As the county Task Force on Oral Health notes in its final report — to be presented to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday — the county is experiencing "a staggering burden of suffering and a growing oral health divide between rich and poor."
The good news is that many of the solutions to the county's dental crisis are within our grasp.
Some of the task force's recommendations are already in the works, including expanding public-private partnerships to reach more people, particularly in low-income areas. Other efforts include opening up more community-based facilities — existing health centers, the Santa Rosa Junior College, etc. — to create more dental clinics. Vista Health Center in northeast Santa Rosa, for example, is looking into opening a clinic. The Petaluma Health Center has launched a WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Dental Days and will soon be starting a version of the successful Mommy and Me program, sponsored by the St. Joseph's Foundation.
Meanwhile, health care leaders, including the Sonoma County Medical Association, are embracing the need to encourage primary care physicians to include oral health assessments as part of their regular patient visits.
All of these measures are needed and should be pursued. But all of them pale in comparison to the single most cost-effective way that Sonoma County can combat its dental crisis — by fluoridating our water.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recognized water fluoridation as one of the "10 great public health achievements of the 20th century," ranking in importance with the advent of seat belts and birth control and the recognition of the dangers of smoking. And yet Sonoma County lives in the dark ages on this critical public health issue.