School Nurses Voice Concern After County Ends Fluoridation

Posted & filed under Children's Oral Health and Fluoride, Communities Supporting Fluoride, Health Equity, What the Experts Say about Fluoride.

When officials in Collier County, Florida, recently voted to end fluoridation, dental professionals and pediatricians were disheartened. School nurses were concerned too. Why? They see firsthand the negative impact of tooth decay on children’s ability to attend school, learn and thrive.

After the county’s board of commissioners made its decision, leading voices from the school nursing community took action. They turned to social media to share their professional concerns. Martha Bergren, executive editor of the Journal of School Nursing, called Collier County’s vote the “latest anti-science decision” that will negatively affect children’s health. She reminds us that drinking fluoridated tap water reduces decay by 25%.

The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) shared Bergren’s message on social media too. NASN’s message included the hashtag #healthequity, and for good reason. Atooth decay children attend school 2021 report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) writes that fluoride in water “can especially benefit children in low-income families.”

Collier County includes the city of Naples and other communities with large numbers of retirees. Yet nearly 48,000 school-age children also live in the county — a number of which NASN is well aware. Research shows that children with dental pain are:

Although Collier County is known as the home of affluent communities, about 40,000 of its residents live at or below the poverty line. Families with low incomes have higher rates of tooth decay. At the same time, they have more difficulty getting professional dental care. For many children in low income households, tap water with fluoride is the only disease prevention they receive. Without it, they are at greater risk of cavities which, if left untreated, will only get worse.

The decision to stop adding fluoride to a community’s water is often justified with information that is false, misleading or incomplete. This was true in Collier County. Before the board of commissioners voted, Commissioner Daniel Kowal expressed his reasoning. In his remarks, Kowal cited Australia as one of the countries that do not fluoridate their water. This is false. Fully 89% of the Australians have access to drinking water with fluoride at the recommended level to prevent cavities.

It is laudable that school nurses are doing their part to raise awareness of the need for community-level prevention. And NASN has many excellent resources for its members on its Oral Health Connections web page. School nurses are trusted, vital partners in educating families and the public. We thank them for raising their voices to highlight the effect of public policy decisions on the health of the children and families they serve.