DVIDS – News – Air Force adoption of water fluoridation in 1954 led to dental improvements


On September 22, the National Air Force Museum posted images to its social media page as part of a story about one of Lt. Col. Charles “Deacon’s B-29 crewmembers. Miller, Deacon’s Disciples II, whose last flight in World War II set a record for the fastest non-stop trip from Hawaii to Washington, DC. As fate or the social media algorithm would have, a photo of a crew member’s dental investigation showed up first, in at least one case, revealing the undeniable impact that dentists have of the Air Force and the push for fluoridation would have on preventative dental care.

The number of missing teeth in the photo is a window into the turn of the 20th century, before fluoridation, when tooth decay and tooth loss was an unavoidable fact of life. In 1950, 90% of Air Force recruits needed fillings for an average of eight cavities each, and 19% needed dentures.

On September 28, 1954, Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico became the first US military installation to fluoridate its water supply under the direction of base dentist Colonel Carlos F. Schuessler. The then United States Air Force Major General, Major General Harry G. Armstrong, approved the project on June 23, 1954, after receiving a letter from the National Research Council. The letter noted: “There is sufficient scientific evidence of the merits of fluoridating public water supplies to justify its use at military posts wherever possible, and particularly where there is a resident child population. . In two years, the Air Force had approved fluoridation projects for 15 bases. By 1965, 80 bases had either installed fluoridation systems or had access to sufficiently fluoridated water, and by 1976 the number had grown to 146.

In many ways, fluoridation of public water supplies was still a novelty in the early 1950s. The results of dental surgeon and epidemiologist H. Trendley Dean’s comparative study of 21 cities with varying levels of fluoride in their supplies in water had only been published in 1942. Although the first studies were suggestive, it was not until the preliminary results of 1949 field trials at Grand Rapids, MI showed overwhelmingly positive results that the US Public Health Service and the American Dental Association approved fluoridation of public water supplies in 1950.

Even then, as with so many public health measures, the politics of the issue were heavy and the anti-fluorations quickly organized themselves into opposition.

Adoption of fluoridation by US municipalities peaked in 1953, with slower rates thereafter. Over the years, objections have ranged from health and religious concerns to environmental arguments, concerns about profitability, the government’s rampant encroachment on individual freedoms and even, as the 1964 black comedy so aptly put it, ” Dr. Strangelove ”, fear of communist subversion.

Nonetheless, it is not surprising that the Air Force has been at the forefront of these efforts and sticking to them. The nascent Air Force Medical Service prioritized preventive dentistry for its members. Likewise, the benefits to public health have been shown to be dramatic. Large decreases in caries severity were seen in cities that adopted fluoridation in the 1960s, which slowly encouraged further adoption.

At least 60% of Americans now receive fluoridated public water and tooth loss is no longer inevitable. By 2000, although the vast majority of military recruits still needed to be filled, the average number required by each had fallen by about two-thirds.

Alas, none of this would have been beneficial for the particular flyer whose dental investigation is in question here. It actually belongs to “Col. Elmer E. Elmer ”, the teddy bear mascot of Deacon’s Disciples II, which has its own Air Force history, decorations, nameplate and even dental records. The bear has resided in the National Museum of the US Air Force since Miller donated it in 1986.

Date taken: 10/29/2021
Date posted: 29.10.2021 08:24
Story ID: 408297
Site: FALLS CHURCH, VA, United States

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