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The history of water fluoridation in Sarawak uncovered

Did you know that water fluoridation was first introduced in Sarawak in 1962? That was even before the state became part of the Malaysian federation.

Fluoridated water contains fluoride at a level that is effective for preventing cavities.

In the US, water fluoridation started in 1945 while the first state in Malaysia to install the system was Johor in 1957.

The number one reason for introducing fluoride to the public water supply was to prevent dental health problems.

So how does it work? The water works the surface of your teeth. It creates low levels of fluoride in saliva which reduces the rate that your tooth enamel de-mineralizes. At the same time, the water help to increase the rate of tooth enamel remineralizing in the early stages of cavities.

According to a Sarawak Gazette article published on Jan 31, 1962, the incidence of dental decay was very high.

“Decayed, missing and filled teeth are the accumulated ill effects of this decay and it constitutes a major dental health problem. Surveys carried out by a dental officer of the Medical Department among Simanggang school children have confirmed this high incidence. The suffering which decayed teeth can cause is only too well known. The extent to which the ability to chew and speak is affected and the disfigurement they cause, are common knowledge.”

Introducing water fluoridation to Sarawak

Sarawak used sodium silicofluoride in its water plants because “of safety in handling and relatively low solubility in water (0.8 per cent).”

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The article further explained, “The chemical contains 60 per cent available fluoride and is therefore, added to the water supply in quantities of 1.2 parts per million part of water to give the required 0.7 parts of fluoride. Many types of dosing equipment are available but that selected for Sarawak is a simple displacement doser designed by the Hydraulics Branch of the Public Works Department and constructed in Brooke Dockyard.”

A simple metering device was installed to adjust the dosage of solution to the water passing through the plant.

For precautionary measure, the water plant operator back then regularly checked the fluoride level of the water at intervals of less than one hour.

On top of that, they also sent bulk samples of water bi-weekly to be analysed by the Chemical Bacteriological Laboratory.

To assure all Sarawakians, the article stated “One may ask of, despite all these precautions, it is possible to obtain an accidental toxic does. The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. It has been estimated that one person would have to drink about 500 gallons of water fluoridated to 0.7 parts per million a day in order to receive a toxic does.”

Overall, the cost of fluoridation equipment and installation to water authorities in Sarawak was estimated between $500 to $1500.

Additionally, the recurring cost of treating the water with fluorides was 0.04 cents per 1000 gallons.

This was considered to be a small cost to improve the dental health of Sarawakians.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.
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