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Three U.S. communities choose fluoridation on Election Day

November 17, 2016

By Michelle Manchir

Three U.S. communities on Election Day said yes to water fluoridation, including Wilmington, Ohio, which will initiate a water fluoridation program.

Almost 57 percent of voters said "yes" Nov. 8 to a ballot question that asked whether the city of about 12,500 should join eight other communities in Ohio that originally opted out of a state fluoridation mandate in 1970, but have since reconsidered and voted to fluoridate.

"The community really got behind it," said Dr. Levi Hamilton, a Wilmington dentist who helped educate the public about the benefits of fluoridation.

Dr. Hamilton said he spoke at a public forum where citizens could ask questions and learn more about fluoridation. He also talked with his patients during their visits to his office.

Some residents of the town, he noted, even visited his office just to ask him questions about fluoridation.

"I was surprised so many people really wanted the research on it instead of just saying 'I'm not voting for that' or 'I'm voting for that,'" he said.

Many of Wilmington's  other dentists, physicians and pediatricians also vocally supported the initiative, which he believes resonated with voters.

"Practitioners really care about their community and their patients know that," he said.

Healdsburg, California

For the second time in two years, voters in this city of about 12,000 approved its water fluoridation program.

On Nov. 8 about 59 percent of voters said "no" to a ballot question that would have effectively halted the city's fluoridation program.

"It's a public health issue," said Dr. Shawn Widick, a dentist in Healdsburg. He helped mobilize the local medical and dental community in educating voters about the safety and benefits of fluoridation during both elections through direct mailers, letter writing campaigns and speaking at public forums.

Healdsburg has been fluoridated for 63 years, Dr. Widick said, and he believes many voters are swayed by the evidence they see at home: their kids don't have cavities.

"I hear this over and over," he said.

Despite all the misinformation about fluoridation available online and the groundwork laid by impassioned fluoridation opponents, Dr. Widick said "Most people still trust that their physicians and dentists are telling them the truth," emphasizing that dental professionals should be advocates for fluoridation in their own communities.

Dr. Widick encouraged members to work with their local or state dental societies to direct voters to credible information online from the Centers for Disease Control or the ADA.

"We have the science, we have the support," Dr. Widick said.

Greenville, Texas

The city council here voted Nov. 8 to reaffirm its earlier decision to resume water fluoridation in the city of about 26,000.

Dr. Nelson
In October, the council took up the matter after a Greenville dentist, Dr. Jeffrey Nelson, and other health professionals, found out city officials had stopped adding fluoride in 2013 to the water supply to meet optimum levels.

Dr. Nelson and others launched a campaign to bring fluoridation back, and the council voted to do so, both in October and again Nov. 8.

After the initial October vote, Dr. Nelson said he believes city officials could not turn their backs to the science.

"I was very upfront with the council about the resistance that developed from certain segments of our society opposed to fluoride," Dr. Nelson said. "Every point raised by the public health subcommittee was answered the same basic way: Please provide and cite your peer reviewed research that supports your position. Of course, the opposition (to fluoridation) was unable to do so in every case."

A local newspaper quoted Dr. Nelson telling the council before the October vote, "With one vote tonight ... you can prevent more decay than I ever will."

Dr. Nelson said being involved in fluoridation education in the city where he has a dental office helped him understand the need for dental professionals to educate patients and government leaders about the advantages of having a fluoridated community.

"Most folks now believe that fluoride in toothpaste and mouth rinses are suitable substitutes for fluoride in our drinking water," he said, adding that "patience, kindness and respect for our city leaders is the best approach to educate and inform."

Kennebunk, Maine

Customers of the water district here supported eliminating its 12-year-old fluoridation program Nov. 8, according to a local news source.

According to the Seacoast Online, 13,385 voters said "no" to the question "Shall fluoride be added to the public water supply for the intended purpose of reducing tooth decay?" while 6,918 said "yes."

A local registered dental hygienist, Dianne Smallidge, is quoted in the news story covering the vote, saying, "The dentists, hygienists, health professionals and other experts who tried to inform our community members on the facts regarding the safety and efficacy of fluoride, and its importance to oral health, are of course disappointed with the voting outcome. But even more our group is concerned about the negative impact this decision will have on our friends and neighbors' general well-being."

Prior to the vote, Dr. Joe Kenneally, a former ADA vice president and a resident of Kennebunk, wrote a column published in a local newspaper, urging a rational consideration of community water fluoridation.

"Over 100 respected medical and health organizations support fluoridation. So does the American Water Works Association. No widely respected health organization opposes it," he wrote in the Portland (Maine) Press Herald.