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States vote on fluoridation issues

Varied outcomes summon insights on past successes

Communities in Nebraska, Wisconsin, Maine and New York addressed fluoridation issues at the polls Nov. 4 and generated mixed results.

In Nebraska, only 12 of 60 communities voted to fluoridate in response to a state mandate passed in the state legislature in May.

"We're disappointed with the vote," said David O'Doherty, Nebraska Dental Association executive director. "More than 70 percent of Nebraskans already enjoy the benefits of community water fluoridation and we were hoping that that number would increase significantly. NDA will continue to work with local and state officials to help improve oral health in our state."

The citizens represented in the 12 communities that voted to fluoridate will net about a 2 percent gain in state totals—about 30,000 more people who will have access to fluoridated water, he added.

The other 48 communities, by voting against fluoridation, exercised their right to opt out of the mandate through a public vote before June 1, 2010.

In Wisconsin, voters in Holmen passed a fluoridation measure 2,118 to 1,856, while voters in Prairie du Chien rejected a fluoridation measure 1,542 to 1,014.

Couleecap, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income residents in Crawford, LaCrosse, Monroe and Vernon counties in western Wisconsin, serves both communities.

Martha McCabe, Couleecap's health advocate funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program, helped coordinate grassroots campaigns in both communities.

"Many low-income residents in our region don't have access to fluoridated water and dental health was recently identified as a priority for them," said Ms. McCabe.

Local coalitions that included health care professionals and other advocates in each community, using resources available from the Wisconsin Dental Association and the ADA, canvassed door to door, held education sessions, conducted letter to the editor campaigns, gave television and radio interviews and distributed informational brochures.

Dr. Randall Moseng, a general dentist with offices in LaCrosse and Holmen, said he's been actively working for fluoridation for more than three years.

"I started talking to my patients, and told them, 'We need to do this. This is important.' I knew the dentists in the area needed to take the bull by the horns to get it done," said Dr. Moseng.

"Then I started talking to the village council and then worked on educating the public. It was a lot of legwork, a lot of politics. And we started using the ADA and WDA resources to form a grassroots campaign."

For months, he worked behind the scenes, asking patients and citizens to sign a petition. He worked with a local coalition of a variety of health care providers and advocates who supported the cause. "If I was in public, even at the grocery store, I talked to people about why fluoridation is a good thing."

When the movement developed into a referendum, he said, "we went from just educating the public and policymakers to running a grassroots political campaign to get voters to support fluoridation. To win, you need organization, grassroots efforts, you need to roll up your sleeves, do the nitty-gritty and hope for the best. You also need to know your opposition and head them off at the pass with the facts."

In Maine, voters in the island community of Vinalhaven passed a referendum to fluoridate its water supply to improve dental health. The measure, which read, "Shall fluoride be added to the public water supply for the intended purpose of reducing tooth decay?" passed 423 to 320.

"We were really pleased about the outcome in Vinalhaven," said Frances Miliano, Maine Dental Association executive director. "The MDA supported the efforts of the members of the Vinalhaven community who organized the effort to fluoridate their water system, including the MDA member dentist who works at the island health center."

Inland and north, voters in Jackman and Moose River—communities that fended off a 2006 fluoridation challenge—voted to stop fluoridating.

"It was a disappointment for sure," Ms. Miliano said. "These are small communities near the Canadian border and there is no dentist in Jackman. The closest dentist is 45 miles away. MDA coordinated efforts to get local health professionals and the nearest dentists involved. We produced an informational poster and sent out letters from the coalition of area health care providers who support fluoridation."

In Corning, N.Y., where the issue of community water fluoridation has gone back and forth for decades, voters narrowly approved a proposition to "prohibit the city council from enacting legislation to fluoridate the city's water supply."

The city council approved fluoridation in 2006, but a petition drive in 2007 brought the matter to a public vote. The unofficial vote totals for Proposition 1 reported Nov. 5 were 1,287 to 1,222. At press time, there were still some 275 absentee ballots to be counted because of a recount in another race in the voter district.

"We're hoping the absentee ballots swing the end result our way," said Dr. John Gunselman, past president of the Steuben County Dental Society. "We are very close."

Watch the ADA News for an update on the Corning vote.