When public utility officials in Porter County, Indiana, were considering in 2014 whether to continue adding fluoride to its water supply to combat tooth decay, Dr. Isaac Zeckel stepped up to help them make the decision.
The dental director at the county’s public health center, Dr. Zeckel said he felt he was in a unique position to help educate the public officials.
“I observe the devastating effect dental decay has on patients during all phases of life, especially the younger ones,” said Dr. Zeckel, a 2011 graduate of Indiana University School of Dentistry. “Even though I was in practice only a few years then, I realized that I was wellsuited to speak up on behalf of those in my community who needed a voice.”
Dr. Zeckel said he attended local fluoride commission meetings in Porter County and spoke to commission members about the need for what he called the “preventive treatments and proven benefits water fluoridation have shown.”
Dentists like Dr. Zeckel who want their patients and others to benefit from community water fluoridation should be aware of and engaged in fluoridation discussions in their communities, said Dr. Steven Levy, professor in the departments of preventive and community dentistry at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry and epidemiology
at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. He is also a member of the ADA National Fluoridation Advisory Committee.
Fluoride occurs naturally in water, though frequently there’s not enough in it to adequately
protect teeth. Many U.S. communities choose to add enough fluoride to meet the federal recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Drinking optimally fluoridated water keeps teeth strong and reduces tooth decay by about 25 percent in children and adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And with the internet offering what Dr. Zeckel called “a tidal wave of conflicting information” about fluoridation, “providing accurate information to those impacted by health care discussions such as water fluoridation is one way I can make a positive contribution to my community,” he said.
Often due to misinterpreted scientific studies about fluoridation, specious ideas about the safety and efficacy of water fluoridation have led to some heated discussions and debates in U.S. municipalities taking up the issue.
“Sometimes the prominence of opposition to fluoridation on the internet makes it very confusing for those who are unaware of the science and evidence behind it,” said Dr. Levy.
In fact, the research that supports the safety and efficacy of community water fluoridation is so convincing that most major health organizations, including the ADA, support it. The CDC named community water fluoridation one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Dentists can be an asset to sharing with the public the scientific basis for community water fluoridation, said Dr. Angeles Martinez Mier, professor and chair, department of cariology, operative dentistry and dental public health at the Indiana University School of Dentistry.
“Dentists are trusted members of their communities and by supporting community water fluoridation they are helping ensure everybody receives its benefits,” said Dr. Martinez Mier, who is a member of the ADA National Fluoridation Advisory Committee. “They are contributing to the overall health of their community.”
For those interested in getting involved, awareness is key. Dentists can check to see if the communities where they live and practice receive fluoridated water by searching for their water systems in the CDC’s My Water’s Fluoride website at nccd.cdc.gov/DOH_MWF.
Fluoridation status can also be reviewed in the annual Water Quality Reports made available to consumers each spring via water bills, local newspapers or community websites.
The CDC also says “the best way to find the fluoride level of your local public water system is to contact your water utility provider.”
For dentists just starting out and learning about their local community water fluoridation concerns, Dr. Levy suggests connecting with local agencies and groups. Get in touch with the local health department’s dental health program, a dental school in the state or the local/state dental association and find out what they know about the specifics of that community when it comes to water fluoridation, Dr. Levy said.
Talking with local medical and public health professionals and other community members, in addition to attending public meetings, are good ways to become informed and engaged, Dr. Levy said.
The ADA also offers resources for educating and for spreading the word about the benefits of community water fluoridation. Check out ADA.org/fluoride for answers to frequently asked questions, fluoride clinical guidelines, medical testimonials and more. Dental professionals can refer their patients to ADA’s consumer-friendly website, MouthHealthy.org, for information about fluoride and community water fluoridation.
The ADA offers technical assistance and training to professionals who are interested in advocating for community water fluoridation. For more information on this, contact Jane McGinley, ADA manager of fluoridation and preventive health activities by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Dr. Zeckel, engaging in his community’s discussion about public health helped him understand his potential to have influence in his community when it comes to good public health.
The Porter County officials who Dr. Zeckel addressed ended up voting to continue water fluoridation.
“Taking time to understand one’s community and its unique needs enables (dental professionals) to provide the highest quality of care,” he said.