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ADA hosts celebration of 70 years of water fluoridation

September 15, 2015

By Michelle Manchir

Celebrating: Dr. Maritza Cabezas, dental director for the oral health program for Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, talks Sept. 11 with attendees at the 70th Anniversary of community water fluoridation.
Marking an important public health anniversary, 90 people from 28 states and two countries came together at the ADA Headquarters on Sept. 11-12 to celebrate water fluoridation and the positive effect it has had on the public's oral health.
2015 marks 70 years since Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Jan. 25, 1945, became the first city in the world to fluoridate its drinking water.
American Academy of Pediatrics; American Association of Public Health Dentistry; American Dental Association; Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Oral Health collaboratively planned the 70th Anniversary Fluoridation Celebration and Symposium. Sponsors included the DentaQuest Foundation and Delta Dental Plans Association, in conjunction with 10 Delta Dental state affiliates.

Sharing history: Dr. Raymond Gist, 2010-11 ADA president, of Flint, Michigan, offered a history of water fluoridation Sept. 11 at the symposium.
The meeting began with panel members providing perspectives on the history of fluoridation. Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sent greetings via a video in which he noted that fluoridation is everything a public health intervention should be — cost effective, equitable, safe and highly impactful.  
Dr. Raymond Gist, 2010-11 ADA president, provided his perspective on the history of fluoridation and was followed by Evanston, Illinois, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl who discussed the role Evanston played in early fluoridation trials in the 1940s. The panel closed with Dr. Chase Klinesteker, who reviewed the Grand Rapids story and discussed his experience as a child participant in the Grand Rapids fluoridation trial.  
The remainder of the day-and-a-half event was dedicated to discussing the current science surrounding fluoridation, sharing legislative and legal strategies and focusing efforts on securing water fluoridation for U.S. communities with expert panelists and presenters.
"This was most comprehensive group that I've ever seen collected to discuss and get a dialogue together about addressing the situation with water fluoridation," said Dr. Gist. "This is the most effective weapon in dentistry, I believe, to prevent not only tooth decay but mouth disease in general and overall health."
Based on data from 2012, 74.6 percent of the U.S. population on public water systems had access to fluoridated water. The ADA's eight Action for Dental Health initiatives include extending the availability of optimally fluoridated water. State dental societies and the ADA have a set goal to bring fluoridated water to 80 percent of the population served by public water systems by 2020.
A session about fluoridation advocacy in the digital age sparked much discussion among participants, some of whom are currently involved in discussing the safety and benefits of water fluoridation in communities where the issue is coming up among local decision makers.

Discussing research: Dr. Brittany Seymour, assistant professor in oral health policy and epidemiology at Harvard School of Dental Medicine, speaks about fluoridation activism in the digital age.
With the barrage of information on the Internet people have access to daily, it's easy for many to be misinformed and misguided about health and science topics, said Dr. Brittany Seymour, a professor in oral health policy and epidemiology at Harvard School of Dental Medicine.
Even reputable scientific articles can be misconstrued and shared on social media in a way that skews the facts, she said.
"The nuance of science … gets lost once it gets onto the Internet," Dr. Seymour said, adding that research has shown that "once misinformation is out there, it's almost impossible to correct."
Presenters at the conference tied together how this warping of information can be especially important to consider when people in communities are diving into the Internet to conduct their own research on water fluoridation.
To combat the misinformation, presenters urged dentists and all involved in the oral health of their communities to speak up and speak out. Go to town hall meetings, talk to patients, educate local community leaders and involve other influential community groups.

Listening in: Dr. Caswell Evans, front, associate dean for prevention and public health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, and Deba Dutta, a fluoridation engineer for the state of Texas, listen during a presentation Sept. 11 at the ADA Headquarters.
“It’s not a dental issue, it’s a public health issue. It’s a common good issue,” said Dr. Myron Allukian Jr., American Public Health Association past president, who spoke about fluoridation advocacy. Dr. Allukian has been involved in supporting and promoting fluoridation for almost 50 years. “We are the role models for better oral health,” he said. “We need to stimulate the public, get out into the community and promote better oral health and fluoridation every day."
Dr. Ronald Wilson, of Greenville, South Carolina, is among those who have advocated for community water fluoridation. Dr. Wilson has presented information about the importance of fluoridated water in public forums hosted by the Greer, South Carolina, Commission of Public Works.
Authorities in Greer decided to start a "community conversation about fluoride in our drinking water" to coincide with the April announcement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to recommend communities fluoridate at 0.7 mg/L. Greer has been fluoridating its water since 1975, but "because of this change…we want to know what our customers think," the commission said on its website.

Visiting: Dr. John Findley, 2008-09, shown during the reception at the 70th anniversary fluoridation symposium on Sept. 11.
Dr. Wilson, president of the Piedmont District Dental Society, said some residents seem "misinformed" by data and information available online.  This challenge is partially why he wanted to attend the fluoridation symposium, he said, to become more informed and network with experts.
Hearing about how the issue was handled in other communities was especially helpful to him, he said.  Presentations like those by Dr. Allison Lesko, who discussed the successful campaign to retain fluoridation in Salina, Kansas, provided concrete examples of how to manage a successful fluoridation campaign.
Dr. Wilson said he came away from the event with the sentiment that all dentists have an important role to play in educating the public about the benefits of water fluoridation.
"We're here to protect people's oral health," he said. "The benefits from that little tiny bit of fluoride (added to water) are so vast.
A complete list of symposium sponsors and speakers is available online at www.ada.org/Fluoridation70.