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Seward voters OK fluoridation

Seward, Alaska—With a vote of 279 to 234, voters in this small town on Resurrection Bay Oct. 6 approved an advisory proposition calling for the city council to initiate water fluoridation.

The ballot initiative began through the work of a community coalition—the Seward Wellness for All Committee—a group dedicated to improving the health of the city's citizens through a variety of health programs, from tobacco cessation to access to care to fluoridation. Providence Seward Medical Clinic conducted a survey to find out what health initiatives were needed and compared its survey results with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2010 goals. The Seward Wellness for All Committee was organized to discuss the results and create health and wellness goals.

One Healthy People 2010 goal calls for an increase in the proportion of the U.S. population served by community water systems with optimally fluoridated water.

Maya Moriarty, wife and office manager of Seward's only resident dentist, Dr. Michael Moriarty, headed up the effort.

"It happened pretty quickly," said Mrs. Moriarty. "In less than a year we got the initiative on the ballot and it passed."

The Improving Oral Health subcommittee enlisted the support of local health professionals—physicians, nurses, pharmacists, hospital personnel—as well as assistance and technical support from the ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations staff and Council on Government Affairs staff; the Alaska Dental Society; Dr. Brad Whistler, state dental officer; and Troy Ritter, MPH, from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

"We worked to keep the initiative a public health issue," Mrs. Moriarty added. "Since the Wellness for All committee identified the community's needs through the survey and subsequent discussions, it gave credibility to our initiative and we used a grassroots campaign to keep it local."

Part of the grassroots campaign included two town hall meetings, for which Mrs. Moriarty organized experts who could each speak briefly on topics like fluoridation benefits, safety, and engineering and implementation issues.

Dr. Moriarty also worked as a grassroots advocate by talking about fluoridation to every adult patient who came into his office from March through the Oct. 6 vote.

"Whether they were voters from town, or folks from out of town who couldn't vote, I spent at least five minutes with every adult for the last six months," said Dr. Moriarty. "I kept a spreadsheet in the office with the statement, 'I recognize the benefits of enhancing Seward's natural fluoride levels for preventing tooth decay,' and asked patients to sign it if they agreed. I collected about 350 signatures."

On Oct. 5 and 6 the subcommittee started its "Get Out and Vote" campaign. Dr. Moriarty's office called all of his adult patients to remind them to vote. "The time we spent at the grassroots level really paid off," he added. "It was pretty amazing to watch this project from its start to the vote. And I think it helped to have the area's health care professionals on board first, presenting a united front."

The Wellness for All committee, he added, also divvied up what was left of the list of 1,500 registered voters to call and remind them to get to the polls.

"The credit really goes to Maya and Mike," said Alaska Dental Society Executive Director Jim Towle. "It really helps when you have such committed volunteers putting their hearts and souls into it. The first step is done; now we need to get the city council to approve fluoridation, get funding and get it up and running. That's the next challenge."

"Our work isn't done;" said Mrs. Moriarty. "The city council will still have to make a decision, and hopefully then implementation will come. What I learned from this experience is communities need to approach a fluoridation campaign from a health standpoint."

The ADA offers a variety of fluoride and fluoridation information and resources online at www.ada.org/goto/fluoride.