Make Your Voice Heard In the Fluoride Debate
Contributed by Marija Osborn, MSW, Policy Analyst for the National Network for Oral Health Access
I am not a dentist, but I care about my community’s health. When I came to work at the National Network for Oral Health Access (NNOHA) I naively thought that advocating for community water fluoridation would be the easiest part of my job. I have always lived in fluoridated communities, I have healthy teeth, and I know how lucky I am to have both.
My first few weeks at NNOHA were very eye opening. I quickly learned that anti-fluoride activists have spread misinformation about water fluoridation, connecting this practice to adverse health effects, claiming that fluoride is dangerous or unsafe, and effectively scaring people out of protecting their teeth.
Once I got over my shock, I started researching every anti-fluoridation claim I heard. I asked for references, sought clarification, and read more scientific studies in my first year with NNOHA than the previous ten years combined. Based on this research and talking to experts in the public health and dental fields, I am confident that water fluoridation is a safe and effective public health practice that needs to be protected.
Unfortunately, the controversy over water fluoridation recently hit close to home. A letter to the editor seeking to incite fear of water fluoridation was published in my local paper. As soon as I saw the letter, I knew that I needed to respond. Allowing the letter to go unchallenged would have been the first step in creating the impression that there is not public support for this important, and cost-saving, public health measure.
I did not attempt to write a scientific paper, instead, my goals in writing my response were simple:
- Establish that there is widespread support for community water fluoridation from the organizations and institutions that I trust for health information;
- Reinforce the positive impacts that water fluoridation has on our community and health; and
- Challenge the false statements that had been made in the previous letter.
The science may overwhelmingly support water fluoridation, but public opinion is informed and impacted by many other sources. In my community, I want to make sure that people who have read and understood more than sound bites have a voice in that public discussion.