Defending Water FLUORIDATION in New York
Community water fluoridation was named by CDC as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. It is an ideal preventive measure that has been shown to reduce tooth decay by about 25% in children and adults across the lifespan. Water fluoridation now reaches 72.4% of people served by community water systems. In New York State, 72.2% of people on community water systems receive optimally fluoridated drinking water.
The New York State Department of Health’s Bureau of Dental Health, which receives CDC funding for preventive oral health programs, has been proactive in supporting community water fluoridation. This support includes training water plant opera- tors and teaching community members how to address ques- tions and challenges related to community water fluoridation.
The city of Plattsburgh has been fluoridating its drinking water since 1955. In 2008, CDC and the Clinton County Health Department (CCHD) gave the city an award for maintaining optimal fluoride levels. The positive media coverage attracted the attention of anti-fluoridation groups, which began lobbying the Plattsburgh City Council to discontinue fluoridation.
In January 2009, officials in the CCHD learned about these activities and recognized the need to educate the public about the benefits of fluoridated drinking water. They contacted the Bureau of Dental Health for relevant scientific studies on water fluoridation. The vice-president of the CCHD Board of Health was chosen to respond to opposition groups. Members of the New York State Oral Health Coalition also sent letters of support to the mayor, city council, and Board of Health.
In September 2009, the state water fluoridation specialist and a representative from the New York Rural Water Association (NYRWA) made a presentation on fluoridation to the CCHD Board of Health. The next day, NYRWA officials conducted an on-site visit to the Plattsburgh water system to answer technical questions from water plant personnel and make sure the fluori- dation process was being properly implemented. CCHD staff members participated in the site visit, and in October 2009, they attended a state symposium on fluoridation.
CCHD staff members also developed a social marketing plan to educate county residents about the benefits of fluoridation. As part of this plan, a brochure promoting fluoridation was developed and distributed to community members by the county’s Public Health Nursing Program, the Joint Council on Economic Opportunity, and the Special Supplemental Nutri- tion Program for Women, Infants, and Children. A presentation to educate community members also was developed.
During 2009, the county’s directors of public health and environmental health, as well as local dentists, attended Plattsburgh City Council meetings to promote the benefits of water fluori- dation. Opponents of fluoridation also provided information to city council members and the public. In November 2009, the Plattsburgh City Council voted 5 to 2 to continue fluoridating the city’s drinking water.
Because of CDC support to the state Bureau of Dental Health, the state was well-positioned to help Plattsburgh address this challenge to community fluoridation and maintain the oral health benefits of fluoridation for its residents.