Have you ever heard of the 8020 campaign (to be able to have 20 or more healthy teeth by the age of 80) or the 3,3,3 campaign, (meaning brush your teeth three times a day for three minutes without exceeding the three minutes after having a meal)? These are campaigns related to teeth. As the rate of tooth decay grows, due in part to people enjoying more sweets, many are getting more worried about teeth problems. Another problem that may be contributing to more tooth related problems is the fluoridation of water that has been in dispute, heating up public opinion again. This issue has been the topic 0f debate for as much as 10 years.
Water fluoridation means that fluoride is added (0.8 parts per million (ppm)) to tap water in order to prevent tooth decay. Under the dental health code, the water fluoridation system can be operated once each municipal citizen has agreed to implement the system. Jang, Hyang-sook, who is a member of the Uri party, however, introduced the drafted bill to the National Assembly last June. She said "According to the minister's of Health and welfare rule, every municipal city must run the water fluoridation system if more than half of citizens agree to the bill." Let's take a look into water fluoridation and why it has caused argument.
First of all, fluoride which is an abundant chemical element existing on earth is an apatite (a common complex mineral consisting of calcium fluoride phosphate), there is 1.3ppm in sea water and 3g in our body. It is used in artificial joints and the coating of kitchen utensils as well as semiconductor production and uranium concentrate. When fluoride was added to tap water in the U.S.A. back In 1908, some researchers found out that people living around hot Spring Town, Colorado in the US had little tooth decay. The hot spring water contained lots of fluoride, as a result people have since believed that fluoride is good for teeth. From the research that was done in Colorado, the nation as a whole started to utilize water fluoridation.
Generally, the ions in fluoride are known to make enamel to help make people's teeth stronger. In Cheongju, Korea fluoridation was started for the first time in 1982 and many other cities followed after that. But as time went by, some people raised questions as to the validity of using fluoride, not only in Korea but in other countries as well, because it didn't prove to be that safe. In 2003, Gwacheon city, which started using fluoridation in 1994 along with many other cities such as Uiwang, Daejeon, and Pohang etc., stopped the system. Now, only 1.11 million GyeongGi Province residents still use it in the following cities: Ansan, Anseong, and Namyangju.
There is a sharp difference of opinion on this point. The issue related to water fluoridation is consisted of three parts. First, people argue about the necessity of fluoridation. One reason is because Korean dental problems have been growing. For example, 12-year-old children commonly have 3.3 teeth that become decayed, which is a much high number than the OECD average of 1.2 or the world average of 1.6. Furthermore, national health insurance related to dental problems costs have increased dramatically from 170 billion won in 1990 to 990 billion won in 2004. So government has to legislate people to improve dental health of the public. One supporter said water fluoridation is the most effective way to improve the dental health of the public.
But critics say tooth decay isn't an infectious or incurable disease. Fluoridation to prevent tooth decay was decided on ignoring people's age, condition of health, habits and regional traits. Second, people dispute about the after effects of using fluoridation. The opposition said, there are only mild effects when our nation uses the fluoridation system compared to other nations, while supporters insist fluoridation is for the most part very effective.
Third, there are problems of fluoridation's safety. Critics worry about harmful effect. If people drink 1.8~1 ppm of fluoric water for a long time, they will suffer from mottled teeth (spotty and blotched), allergies, gastro enteric trouble, thyroid problems, arthritis and even cancer in the bones. Also, it is dangerous for fluoride to be added to tap water if it's produced from the Nam-hae fertilizer plant. On the contrary, fluoridation is very safe and many countries such as the U.S. and Europe are using it, supporters say. Fluoride is regarded as being a toxic chemical, and can be a harmful material when people drink large amounts of it. Water fluoridation uses only a little fluoride, so it doesn't matter if officials should tightly control the amount of chemicals in tap water.
Finally, they argue about people's democratic rights. Supporters say that fluoridation is effective for public health, keeping costs low and honoring human rights because fluoridation will be started only after people vote on the issue. Critics' feel that minorities' opinions are ignored. And fluoridation is good for only teeth not the body. Fluoridation water is given to everyone whether they want it or not and so, is a forced medical treatment.
This issue has occurred without the agreement of the citizens, due in part to the fact that we have little to no information about fluorine so far. Actually, many another countries are suffering from concerns about this same issue. Information that has been gained so far shows that it is effective for the prevention of tooth decay, and it hasn't been proven to cause harmful effects on the body. So there are affirmative and objective points on the side of supporters. We need more detailed information and testing in order to come up with a successful conclusion about water fluoridation.
Above all, authorities have to inform citizens about the merits and demerits of fluoridation, because even people living in cities enforcing fluoridation don't know the facts and should have a choice whether or not to use fluoridation. Also, they will need to focus on widening national health insurance and give fluoric toothpaste or encourage people to use fluorine in low-income families. The drafted bill about water fluoridation will be discussed about this year. Korea must promote its policy based on citizens' desires, rather than being influenced by another country's policy. The successful conclusion of water fluoridation will need the attention of the people.
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