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Health professionals' years-long education efforts pay off in Pennsylvania

Meadville water board votes to initiate community water fluoridation

June 19, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

Meadville, Pa. — A drive to initiate community water fluoridation in this town of about 13,000 that started more than four years ago by a vocal group of local health professionals and oral health advocates came to fruition in June.

The Meadville Area Water Authority voted 3-2 on June 14 to begin the process of adding fluoride to the local water supplies.

The move brings happy relief to a group of about 15 local health professionals and oral health advocates who in 2012 launched a campaign to help educate community members about the safety and benefits of fluoridation. They are also responsible for bringing the issue to the water authority to consider for a vote.


Dr. Finton

Dr. Johnson
"It's really something I believed in," said Dr. Dennis Finton, a water authority board member and dental practice owner in Meadville for more than 30 years. "You see so much decay that would be prevented."

Dr. Finton said he made initiating water fluoridation in the community "a personal goal of his" to achieve before he retires. His now-retired dentist father, whose practice he joined in the 1980s, had taken up the issue decades ago but could not find enough community and political support at the time for the effort.

Local physician Denise Johnson, M.D., helped lead the effort in educating the public, along with a number of other local physicians, pediatricians, dental hygienists and others. The group, with assistance of a local college, took out ads in the local newspaper, produced and disseminated a video espousing fluoridation facts and sent members to speak at public meetings. The group also received support and assistance from the ADA, the Pennsylvania Dental Association, Health Resources in Action, the Pennsylvania Coalition for Oral Health and other public health groups.

For Dr. Johnson, who works at the local hospital, water fluoridation is one way to help curb emergency department visits for toothaches.

"A community health needs assessment showed that our local residents were concerned about their dental health and access to dental care," she said. "Also, we saw dental issues as the number one or two reason to visit our emergency department over a three-year period."

One big obstacle for group was helping educate residents who were misinformed about fluoridation. At the water authority meeting in June, a dozen residents addressed the board to voice their opposition to fluoridation, some calling it "mass medication," "dangerous" or saying that it offers "no benefits."

"There are many sources of misinformation readily available on the internet," said Dr. Johnson. "Some people are inclined to believe these sources."

The water authority will still have to apply for a construction permit from the state to add necessary equipment, which is likely to include additional public meetings.

Still, Dr. Finton said he expects fluoridation to begin later this year for the community.

"It will benefit everyone," he said.

To other dental professionals involved in fluoridation discussions in their hometowns, Dr. Finton offers these suggestions: "Stick to the science. Stay aboveboard. Stay professional."

The ADA offers resources and information about fluoridation. Visit ADA.org/fluoride or contact Jane McGinley, ADA manager for fluoridation and preventive health activities, by email at mcginleyj@ADA.org.