Children with dental back packs

Richland Public Health is distributing dental health backpacks for free to Richland County children.

MANSFIELD -- Children in need of dental health supplies can get them for free through the latest initiative from Richland Public Health.

Smile Big Richland” seeks to educate the community about reducing tooth decay among children. Children ages 0-18 can receive free dental health backpacks filled with toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss and age-appropriate educational materials. Children under the age of 6 will also receive a coupon for a free fluoride treatment from a local dental provider.

To register for a bookbag, parents are asked to fill out a survey about their child’s dental habits on Richland Public Health’s website.

Families who follow up with the health department a month after receiving the bookbag will be given a gift certificate to a local restaurant.

Richland Public Health is also looking for community partners to help distribute the backpacks. Organizations willing to act as distribution sites should contact Kashema Ginn, health educator at Richland Public Health at 419-774-4723 or

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children. Data collected from Richland Public Health indicate that Richland County is no exception.

Julie Chaya, director of health education and promotion, attributed widespread dental issues among area children to a lack of access to dental services. Chaya said that high-need families may not access dental health resources due to a cost barrier, lack of insurance or inadequate transportation. 

If left untreated, cavities and other forms of tooth decay can cause health problems later in life.

According to Laura Longwell, a registered dental hygienist at Third Street Family Health Services, studies have linked untreated tooth decay in children with problems concentrating at school.

Studies have also shown that these children may not be getting the nutrients they need due to poor diet or because decay makes it hard to chew crunchy foods like fruits and vegetables.

Chaya also cited the lack of fluoridation in the Mansfield water supply as a possible factor.

Many municipalities add fluoride to their drinking water due to its positive effects of dental health. The American Dental Association states that adding fluoride to a municipal water supply can reduce tooth decay in adults and children by 25 percent

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral in the earth’s soil and water, but it is often removed from drinking water during the purification process. For this reason, many municipalities add it back in.

“A lot of times when the water’s gone through a treatment plant, it’s losing all that good minerals that occurs in groundwater and natural spring water,” Chaya said.

Chaya and Longwell agreed that adding fluoride to municipal water supply would benefit the city.

“Fluoride has been proven to be beneficial in the development of teeth, so children should be ingesting fluoride until the age of about 13 years old to increase the strength of the enamel,” she said. “When I worked (in Ashland County) I didn't see near the number of rampant decayed children's mouths.  

According to Longwell, adults also shed fluoride on the outside surface of teeth, but adults are more likely to benefit from fluoridated toothpaste.

“Some adults do not use fluoride toothpaste, so drinking fluoride could help in those cases,” she explained.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human services recommends that community water systems add fluoride maintain an “optimal” concentration of 0.7 milligrams per liter to prevent tooth decay in residents. 

“Adding fluoride or not adding fluoride can be a contentious topic of debate,” said Josh Keeler, manager of the Mansfield Water Treatment Plant. “The City of Mansfield does not treat drinking water with fluoride, so the fluoride levels in our water are only in relation to what is naturally existing in the source water.

"We have a number that’s slightly less than 0.2 parts per million or milligrams per liter.” 

Adding fluoride to drinking water has become increasingly common in the United States since Grand Rapids, Michigan first instituted the practice in the 1940s. In 2016, more than 200 million people (73 percent) of the U.S. population had access to community water systems with the recommended amount of fluoride, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC named community water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. Nevertheless, not everyone believes water fluoridation is beneficial.

A 2016 article from Harvard Public Health Magazine cited the Cochrane Collaboration’s findings that countries that do fluoridate drinking water and countries that don’t have seen similar drops in children’s tooth decay over the last 45 years. The authors of the study also expressed concern that most of the early scientific investigation on water fluoridation was “deeply flawed” in its methodology or reporting. 

Some studies indicate that excessive levels of fluoride consumption could actually cause health problems, rather than prevent them.

Children age 8 or younger are the most susceptible to fluorosis, which causes spotting to form on teeth and may lead to enamel damage. The Ohio Academy of Pediatric Dentistry states that fluorosis often results when children use too much fluoridated toothpaste at an early age, take an inappropriate amount of vitamins or there are hidden sources of fluoride in a child’s diet.

“Fluoride does run naturally in well water, so it's important to get your water tested to know the amount of fluoride that already exists in your child's diet,” Longwell advised. “Everything in moderation -- Remember a smear of toothpaste for a child who cannot spit appropriately then graduate to a pea size for everyone (including adults).”

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Staff reporter focused on education and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. You can reach me at