Oral Health, Rural America and Fluoridated Water

Posted & filed under Fluoride and Public Health, Fluoride, Oral Health, and Access to Care.

A couple of seemingly unrelated articles in the news recently are in fact very much related.

On September 12, National Public Radio (NPR) told the story of Jessica Tefonik, a 31 year old mother of three living in rural Wisconsin. She had just received a set of dentures to replace all her missing upper teeth. “You’ve got a mouthful of broken, cracked and decaying teeth, your ability to contribute to society is impaired, and your options are impaired,” says Greg Nycz, executive director of Family Health Center of Marshfield.

Toddler Drinking WaterNycz may as well have been quoting a new definition of oral health adopted by the FDI World Dental Federation as reported in ADA News on September 8, 2016. It defines oral health as “a fundamental component of health and physical and mental wellbeing” that “reflects the physiological, social and psychological attributes that are essential to the quality of life.” That includes among other things the ability to smile, chew and convey emotion through facial expressions, free of pain – in other words, to face forward and participate fully in life.

Jessica Tefonik, and countless others like her, don’t need to read ADA News to know that. She described how, for years, she lived in pain, ate only soft foods, hid her smile and was, as a result, depressed. “I haven’t smiled in probably eight years. I mean a good smile,” she said. “And I’m very excited to be able to go out to eat with my family and not have soup.”

The NPR story was about much more than Ms. Tefonik. It was about the difficulty of accessing affordable dental care in rural America and included the fact that people in rural areas are less likely to have fluoridated water. It was also about the heroic efforts of Nycz and his organization to provide affordable dental services.

Health professionals are in the business of restoring health to whatever extent they can. And Jessica Tefonik was thrilled with her new teeth. Wouldn’t we all be better off with a healthy set of our very own? Yes! That’s why we champion community water fluoridation.