Little Rock, Ark.—A statewide fluoridation measure and two other bills aimed at improving oral health in Arkansas were passed and signed into law after a grassroots campaign by a coalition that included Arkansas State Dental Association leaders and membership; public health officials; legislators; advocates; and other stakeholders.
Billy Tarpley, executive director of the Arkansas State Dental Association, watched in the State House gallery March 2 as House representatives voted on SB359—a bill calling for fluoridation for all water systems that serve 5,000 or more people.
“It was a tremendous day at the state capitol,” Mr. Tarpley said. “There were handshakes, hugs and tears of joy as we watched the green lights come up on the vote board. We were absolutely thrilled. It was an amazing achievement for our dentists and coalition partners.”
Signed by Gov. Mike Beebe March 4, the law now named Act 197 will bring fluoridated water to 640,000 more Arkansans, including an additional 174,000 Arkansas children.
“The dental community went above and beyond to support this effort,” said Mr. Tarpley. “Arkansas dentists came to the table with solutions and spent a lot of time and effort contacting legislators to make it happen.”
Arkansas dentists and other stakeholders have worked for years to pass a fluoridation measure, said Mr. Tarpley, but this time an offer by Delta Dental of Arkansas to donate $500,000 toward startup costs for 32 water systems affected by the bill and a survey showing public support for the measure helped make the effort successful.
“Delta Dental of Arkansas is proud to commit our resources to this very important oral health initiative that will bring fluoridated water to communities in each corner of our state,” said Ed Choate, president and CEO. “Water fluoridation has been proven to be the single most cost-effective method of improving oral health and we take pride in knowing that Delta Dental of Arkansas has played a role in oral health disease prevention and cost reduction.”
“It really took away any argument that this bill would be an unfunded mandate,” said Mr. Tarpley. “Delta’s commitment was very generous.”
“March 4 was a great day for oral health in Arkansas,” said Dr. Lynn Mouden, director, Office of Oral Health for the Arkansas Department of Health. “Our sincere thanks go to the many people here in Arkansas that stayed the course for more than 11 years of efforts. Without the combined support of dental professionals, concerned stakeholders, Pew and Delta Dental, none of this would have happened.”
A survey of Arkansas citizens conducted in January by the Pew Center on the States showed strong support for community water fluoridation, said Shelly Gehshan, director of the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign.
“We provided funding for the survey to gauge public support and give legislators solid evidence that voters were in favor of fluoridation,” said Ms. Gehshan. “The first question in the survey showed that 54 percent supported community water fluoridation and 19 percent opposed it. But after respondents learned the specifics of the bill (including the fact that startup costs would be donated by Delta Dental of Arkansas and would not require taxpayer dollars), support climbed to 67 percent.”
Pew Senior Campaign Associate Kelly Adams met with Arkansas legislators and oral health coalition stakeholders in February to review survey results.
“It was pretty exciting for us to see the bill pass,” said Ms. Adams. “Stakeholders in Arkansas have labored long and hard to make this happen.”
A little more than a year ago, Arkansas public health officials and dental professionals were unhappy to learn that the state received a failing grade in the Pew Center for the States report, “The Cost of Delay: State Dental Policies Fail One in Five Children,” said Dr. Robert “Bob” Mason, ASDA president. The Pew report, which assigned grades in a report card style for each U.S. state and the District of Columbia, was issued Feb. 23, 2010.
“The state dental association took an active role in development and support of legislation designed to address oral health priorities named by the Arkansas Department of Health as well as benchmarks identified in the Pew report,” said Dr. Mason. “We supported three bills that reflected ASDA core values in quality, access and prevention. We felt it was important to guide change from within for the way we do business in Arkansas to reach out to underserved communities before external change is mandated.”
The other bills passed by the state legislature and supported by the coalition were a collaborative hygiene measure and a bill permitting physicians and nurses, after receiving training in caries risk assessment and fluoride varnish application, to apply fluoride varnishes to a patient who does not have a dental home.
“We worked within the coalition to find common ground in all three of these bills,” Dr. Mason added. “I’m ecstatic about our success. It is a good year for oral health in Arkansas.”
For more information about the ASDA legislative agenda, visit http://arkansasdentistry.org.
Caption under photo:
Historic day: Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe signs SB359 March 4 in Little Rock. Present are, from left, Melissa Massingill, Delta Dental of Arkansas; Rep. Linda Tyler, co-sponsor; Dr. Paul Halverson, state health officer; Sen. David Johnson, sponsor; Dr. Martha Phillips, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Public Health; Dr. Lynn Douglas Mouden, state dental director; Dr. Miranda Childs-Bebee, ASDA vice-president; Dr. George Morledge, ASDA past president; Rosi Smith, Arkansas Children’s Hospital; and Dr. Terry Fiddler, ASDA editor.