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Facing a challenge

State training program offers fluoridation tools and resources

Yorktown, N.Y.—When Yorktown, N.Y., faced a fluoridation challenge last month, Dr. Carl Tegtmeier was prepared, thanks to fluoridation spokesperson training he received in June 2012.


Dr. Tegtmeier was one of 19 dentists to participate in the New York State Oral Disease Prevention Program presented by the New York State Department of Health in Albany.

Fluoridated since the early 1980s, Yorktown, a Westchester county suburb of New York City, took its fluoridation equipment off-line Jan. 2 for repairs. Town leaders decided to use the opportunity to hold an informational town meeting Jan. 22 to discuss the issue.

"The training gave me the tools and resources to work through a political process that required developing alliances within the community and assembling a team of dentists that could respond with information that was accurate," said Dr. Tegtmeier. "The town board fast tracked the whole process so we needed to put a team together on short notice. These individuals from the community helped us get our side of the story to the local online news media. They also rallied local residents to attend the information hearing and to send emails to town board members."

Dr. Tegtmeier worked with Alice Flanagan, executive director of the Ninth District Dental Association, to send a letter to the board members signed by 56 local dentists and pediatricians who support fluoridation. Team members who knew board members personally were able to help the team fine tune its efforts, sharing information that the board would be using emails as a gauge of support for fluoridation. The coalition also worked with Sherlita Amler, M.D., Westchester County commissioner of health; ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations staff; and Dr. Tom Curran of the New York State Oral Health Coalition.

"People familiar with the board were able to tell us the main concern was not so much the money of refurbishing the water treatment facility and cost of new equipment, but rather whether it was appropriate for them to 'force medication on the public without their approval,' " said Dr. Tegtmeier.

Armed with this information, the coalition was able to target its evidence-based answers gathered from a variety of resources, including the ADA Fluoridation Facts resource guide.

"First and foremost, I was given many resources—literature, Web sites and persons that I could contact with questions during the process," he said. "I always felt that I could turn to my contacts at the ADA and at the NYSDOH for up-to-date scientific information and advice on how to handle any situation that might arise. It gave me great confidence in moving forward to meet the challenge we faced in our town."

After listening to two hours of testimony from both dentists and residents, the town board voted to continue fluoridating.

"The New York State Department of Health recognizes the important role dentists play in their communities," said Dr. Jay Kumar, director of NYSDOH Bureau of Dental Health. "One of our objectives in helping to promote community water fluoridation is to communicate evidence-based information to policymakers which they can relay at the community level. We trained Dr. Tegtmeier and 18 other dentists from around the state to communicate the science behind fluoridation. Yorktown is an example of the success our spokesperson training had in addressing the benefits and misinformation about risks related to water fluoridation."

The ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional relations offers a variety of resources and training opportunities for dentists in communities working to initiate or retain fluoridation. For more details visit ADA.org/fluoride or contact Jane McGinley, CAPIR's manager of fluoridation and preventive health activities, by emailing mcginleyj@ada.org or calling toll free, Ext. 2862.