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Texas fluoride vote 'victory for dental health'

February 06, 2015 Editor's note: This report from the Dallas County Dental Society, edited for ADA News publication, describes professional activism in the public debate on community water fluoridation.

photo of Dr. Miller
Dr. Miller

photo of Dr. Wolinsky
Dr. Wolinsky

photo of Dr. Findley

Dr. Findley
– During the spring of 2014, a small but vocal activist group lobbying against fluoride appealed to the City Council, and in effect local media, finding a clear and outspoken ally in District 9 council member Sheffie Kadane, and a few other council members seemed to support their cause. The Dallas County Dental Society issued a statement to the council and local media in support of maintaining water fluoridation in our city and began an active campaign through letters, meetings and interviews to educate the city's leaders.

"First and foremost, we are obligated to health and safety," DCDS President Dr. J. Christian Miller said in a letter to the Dallas Morning News touting the benefits and safety of fluoridated water.  "It is our responsibility as health care providers to support evidence-based practices that are in the best interest of our patients and community."

Since then, several council meetings have been pivotal to the continuation of Dallas community water fluoridation, including a meeting where the council's quality of life committee opted to continue as-is. Another meeting in October was inundated by anti-fluoride group members fighting to keep funds out of the budget, albeit unsuccessfully.

The most recent victory for dental health came at the January 28, 2015, council meeting. The city's contract with the fluoride supplier had expired and a new three-year $1 million contract was on the agenda for approval. Anti-fluoride groups touted this meeting as the chance to end water fluoridation for the city and brought in a large crowd, while several local media outlets were beginning to question the need for CWF in Dallas. In the weeks leading up to the meeting, DCDS members and leaders contacted council members, other local leaders, dental and medical organizations, leaders of 20 surrounding cities that purchase treated water from Dallas Water Utilities and local media to voice their support for the program.

Dean of Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry Dr. Lawrence Wolinsky addressed the council that morning, stating that "Ceasing fluoridation is counterintuitive to improvement, considering that dental decay is one of the most common childhood diseases and is responsible for an estimated 51 million school hours lost among children."  Dr. Wolinsky pointed out that the $1 million saved over three years by the city would be nominal compared to the costs in increased dental care.

After several presentations by anti-fluoride activists, the council voted 13-2 in favor of renewing the city's contract for fluoride treatment of drinking water for an estimated 2.3 million citizens. The hard work behind the scenes by Dallas County Dental Society members over several months paid off, including the tireless efforts of DCDS community health officer and former president of the American Dental Association Dr. John Findley.

"As a practicing dentist for over 40 years now, I have seen the effects of dentitions ravaged by tooth decay," said Dr. Findley. "I have seen children with jaw infections, fevers and incredible pain due to that dental disease.  I see also the opportunity we all have to lessen the occurrence of such disease."