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Coalition efforts result in vote to continue fluoridation

June 27, 2014

By Stacie Crozier

Photo of Dr. Vince Mack
Dr. Vince Mack
Photo of Dr. Marty Makowski
Dr. Marty Makowski
Traverse City, Mich.—With only a few weeks to organize a campaign to convince its city commissioners of the value of continuing to fluoridate Traverse City's water, a broad-based coalition sprung into action.

Dentists and other health professionals, the state and local dental societies, the state oral health coalition and others worked together and were able to commission a survey, contact commissioners in support of fluoridation, hold a press conference, run an op-ed in the local newspaper and speak at the city commissioners' meeting on the day of the vote.

The city commissioners announced in early April in the local newspaper that they would be considering stopping fluoridation as a cost-cutting measure. On June 16, commissioners voted 5-1 to continue funding water fluoridation.

"With help from the Michigan Dental Association, the coalition set up a work group and got ready to go to battle," said Dr. Marty Makowski, MDA president. Dr. Makowski is a pediatric dentist in Clinton Township, Michigan. "The campaign was very well organized. We know that we can have all the facts, but the way they are organized is the key to success."

In May, nearby Boyne City's city commissioners voted 3-2 to discontinue fluoridating its water supply. About 60 miles northeast of Traverse City, Boyne City had been fluoridating for more than 40 years before the vote.

"We learned from Boyne City that we can't take anything for granted," said Karlene Ketola, executive director of the Michigan Oral Health Coalition. "We were so surprised about the Boyne City decision. There's no such thing as a slam-dunk anymore. You have to be ready for challenges."

The MOHC quickly commissioned a survey of 300 Traverse City residents that included people from each commission district. A marketing and public opinion research company constructed the survey and was able to complete it in three days.

"We thought a survey would be a great way to reach people—to take the pulse of what locals were really thinking," Ms. Ketola said. "The antifluoridation group Fluoride Free Traverse City had a Facebook page so we wondered what residents were thinking about fluoridation. If you search Facebook, you can see that many communities have these antifluoridation groups. It's amazing."

Survey results showed that nearly 60 percent of residents support community water fluoridation. Only 19 percent of respondents supported the initiative to stop fluoridating. Most respondents also said they said they trust the ADA's stance on fluoridation (65 percent) and more than half said they trust the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's views on fluoridation (53 percent).

"Last year Traverse City upgraded its fluoridation system, yet the commissioners were going to consider stopping fluoridation to save a fraction of what was spent on the new system. It didn't add up," said Dr. Vince Mack, an MDA trustee and general dentist in Traverse City. "All of the coalition partners really worked together to organize the press conference, submit the op-ed to the local newspaper and to reach out to commissioners to advocate for fluoridation. We had 20 in the local dental society come to the meeting to speak as well as other coalition members. It was organized so we all addressed different issues, and in the end common sense prevailed."