Halloween Tooth Decay in Setauket

On Sundays in the New York Times, The Ethicist column answers ethical questions posed by readers – sort of a sophisticated Ann Landers. Last Sunday, just before Halloween, the column was called “Annual Cavity Drive.” The column was a reply to a dentist who had written in about dentists who offer to purchase candy from their patients during Halloween for $1 a pound. The dentists then donate the candy to a food pantry. His concern was that the people who use the food pantry can’t afford proper dental care. So is it unethical for a dentist to donate candy for their consumption?

The ethicist didn’t see much of a problem with this as it occurs just once a year and he didn’t think it could make that much difference in a person’s overall health. But he suggested that the dentists donate toothbrushes and floss along with the candy. I disagree with the ethicist and agree with the dentist – I have long felt that the practice of giving away candy is unseemly for a dentist. It reminds me of my childhood when dentists would distribute lollipops to their well-behaved patients.
People always ask me if I give away candy to trick-or-treaters in Setauket. No, I don’t give candy. I hold out a basket full of coins and let the kids dig in and take as much as they can grab. They never seem disappointed. Maybe they will buy candy anyway with the money I give them – but maybe not! Happy Halloween everyone!
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In 1901 a dentist named Frederick S. McKay noticed that many of his patients had brown, mottled teeth that were resistant to decay. He collected water samples from towns where brown, mottled teeth were prevalent, and he found concentrations of fluoride as high as 12 parts per million in the water supply. Chemists then did studies and determined that it was the fluoride in the water that caused the brown teeth. But it wasn’t until 1938 that researchers confirmed McKay’s conclusion that drinking water containing fluoride resulted in a reduction of tooth decay.

In 1941 the New York Times reported that children who drank water with 1 part per million of fluoride had 1/2 to 1/3 less tooth decay than children drinking non-fluoridated water. In 1944 New York State conducted a study in which they fluoridated the Newburgh water and compared the lower decay rate to the decay rate in Kingston which did not have fluoridated water. In the early 1950’s the U.S. Department of Health officially recommended fluoridation, and many of the nation’s water supplies were then fluoridated. But fluoridation was controversial in New York City and didn’t begin in the City until 1965.

Today more than 60 percent of Americans use fluoridated water. However Suffolk County water is not fluoridated. The Suffolk County Water Authority website states: “We do not add fluoride or vitamins to the water we deliver to you. Our water delivery system has over 500 wells and over 5,000 miles of water mains (pipes) located throughout Suffolk County. Most of our system is interconnected so that your water can come from multiple wells. This makes it impossible to provide fluoride at consistent levels, and too much fluoride can be harmful.”

I just read about a dentist, Dr. Julian Haszard, who is passionate about mountain climbing as well as about helping people to achieve dental health. Sound familiar? I also enjoy the mountains, but for me, 4,000 feet will do fine rather than the 14,000 feet he climbs!

Dr. Haszard formed a dental aid charity called SmileHigh to service Nepalese children. Because of a radical change in diet, especially a huge increase in refined sugar, there is enormous dental decay among Nepalese children, especially among those of remote communities that have no dental services.

This summer a group of dental professionals will travel to Nepal to volunteer their dental services in conjunction with an expedition to climb Mount Manaslu. The purpose of the climb is to raise money for SmileHigh. The dentists will provide dental treatment and dental education in the Samagon region of Nepal for two weeks. Their website is www.smilehigh.net. How fabulous!


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