Cheryl Willett is a passionate advocate for improving the oral health of children. It's hard not to be when you see the swelling, the fever and other signs of Sonoma County's monumental problem with decay every day.
"It's amazing. Some of these kids come in and their parents say they have not been complaining about pain," said Willett, a pediatric dentist and director of St. Joseph's Dental Clinic in Southwest Santa Rosa. "But I honestly don't think the children know what it means not to be in pain. That is their normal."
Unfortunately, what has been <CF102>our <CF101>normal — here in a county where more than half of all third-graders have evidence of tooth decay, well above the state average — is to accept this situation as, well, normal.
But there's reason to believe that's changing.
Exhibit A is the unanimous decision by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to move forward with studies — believe it or not — on fluoridating the region's water supply.
The news here is not <CF102>why <CF101>the board voted this way. The benefits of fluoridation are widely understood in other parts of the state and nation and championed by health professionals from the American Medical Association to the American Cancer Society to the World Health Organization.
What's interesting is <CF102>how <CF101>the board voted. It not only endorsed the plan with vigor, but two supervisors went toe-to-toe with the critics, those familiar conspiracy theorists who seem to come out of the woodwork whenever fluoridation is mentioned.
One speaker alleged that it was a tool for "mass mind control." Another called it a "witches' brew of pollutants."
Supervisor Mike McGuire pushed back, calling the contentions "off the charts" and said these theories were "an absolute insult." Supervisor David Rabbitt compared the arguments against fluoridation to the fear-based complaints about vaccinations, a paranoia that unfortunately contributed to Sonoma County having the second highest per-capita rate of whooping cough in the state last year. "As a society we're now living longer than ever, thanks to those vaccines, thanks to fluoride for our teeth," he said. "That's a fact."
All I have to say is good for them.
Their rejoinders were not only measured, they were a refreshing departure from the more traditional governmental response of "Thank you, we are forming a committee to look into your concerns of a global fascist plot for world domination through mind control."
We, too, have become familiar with these arguments. Last week, we published two editorials about the county's growing dental crisis, something most residents seem to know little about.
<NO1><NO>In an editorial on Friday we laid out the problems, referencing an oral health report that identified a "staggering burden of suffering and a growing oral health divide between rich and poor" in the county. Then on Sunday we endorsed a series of solutions, including the big one — fluoridating our water. Given the decline in dental health coverage as well as the paucity of funds available to confront problems of this scale, fluoridation is the most cost-efficient solution. But we knew the naysayers would respond in force, and we were not disappointed.
"Fluoridation is raping people of their IQ," noted one email we received from Fairbanks, Alaska within hours.
"Fluoride is an industrial waste product<NO1><NO>,<NO1><NO>" wrote a Santa Rosa resident.