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Monday, March 12, 2001

Molokai may
become first in isles
to fluoridate water

A Molokai town's success in the
'60s spurs a new push for
fluoridating drinking water

By Gary Kubota

WAILUKU -- A group of residents wants to fluoridate drinking-water systems on Molokai.

The group is aiming for the dental-health success achieved by fluoridation in one of Molokai's towns in the 1960s and early 1970s.

If successful, Molokai would become the first civilian population in Hawaii to receive fluoridation through a public water system.

The Maui Board of Water Supply is holding a public meeting tomorrow to listen to the Molokai Dental Health Coalition and receive public testimony. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at the Mitchell Pauole Center in Kaunakakai.

Gov. Ben Cayetano's administration has supported fluoridation measures, but the bills last year and this year have died at the Legislature.

From 1961 to 1972, residents living in the pineapple-company town of Maunaloa received fluoridated water through a private water system.

State researchers say a decrease in tooth decay of 62 percent occurred among Maunaloa residents during fluoridation, and that tooth decay increased by 95 percent after fluoridation ended in 1972.

Coalition facilitator Debra Mapel, a dental hygienist on Molokai, said fluoridation in the drinking-water supply would strengthen the enamel of children's teeth through adulthood and help adults whose teeth are exposed because of receding gums.

Mapel said her own examination of dental X-ray records showed people on Molokai who drank fluoridated water at Maunaloa as children had less serious tooth decay than those living in other parts of the Friendly Isle.

"It definitely showed the difference," Mapel said.

Some Molokai residents say they want their water as pure as possible and that fluoride doesn't need to be added because residents can buy toothpaste with fluoride.

"It's really something we don't need," said Judy Caparida, a resident.

Caparida said she thinks the money would be more wisely spent on education.

Jade Bruhjell, a resident who works as a ukulele maker, said he has seen studies about how fluoride can make teeth brittle and subject to cracking.

But Mapel said the recommended amount of fluoride in the water amounts to 0.7 parts per million, significantly less than the contaminant level of 4 parts per million that begins to cause "cosmetic problems."

Dr. Mark Greer, chief of the state Dental Health Division, said almost all major American cities have drinking water with fluoride.

Greer said there is "no documented downside" to fluoridation, and some opponents have made unsubstantiated claims about its ill effects. He called it "a proven program."

Mapel said the cost of instituting a fluoride program for Molokai would amount to about $145,000 in the first year and $15,000 annually thereafter.

Mapel said the actual savings would be significant.

Based on national statistics, for every dollar spent in fluoridating water, a person would save an estimated $80 in dental costs, she said.

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