SAN JOSE (AP) — The nation's largest city without fluoridated drinking water will finally add tooth decay-fighting fluoride to its water, ending years of debate over how San Jose should treat its tap water.
Even so, residents of San Jose will only get a diluted amount of fluoride in their water for the next two years, because funding approved unanimously by the Santa Clara Valley Water District on Tuesday will not cover the cost of retrofitting all the wells necessary to provide the optimal level of fluoride.
While San Francisco began fluoridating water in the 1950s, the diversity of water sources and the complexity of San Jose's water system held up the process in California's third-largest city.
In recent years, critics of fluoridation have packed public meetings arguing that the chemical isn't safe, and that too much flouride can pit teeth, aggravate thyroid problems and cause other ailments, all claims health officials refute.
Public health advocates see the move as a major advance for residents.
The county's health officer, Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, said the decision would go a long way toward addressing poor dental health among children in the county, which he called a pervasive problem.
One-third of the county's children have at least one cavity by the time they start school, and some even need root canals on their baby teeth, Fenstersheib said.
"When we talk to school nurses, they say kids come to school all the time with terrible dental issues and aren't ready to learn," Fenstersheib said."They can't concentrate."
It will take about two years to finish details and retrofit water plants to bring the additive to the city's taps.
The water district will pay for the $6.6 million needed to retrofit its three main plants through a public-private partnership, but its largest customer, San Jose Water Co., will need to come up with an additional $18 million to retrofit dozens of its wells.
Flouridating water has been found to decrease children's cavities by as much as 40 percent, according to The Health Trust, the nation's largest provider of children's dental services.
"This is a great day for the children of Santa Clara County," said Frederick J. Ferrer, CEO of the trust, which is contributing $1 million to the fluoridation project.