WORCESTER– City residents on both sides of the fluoridation debate came together yesterday under the banner of “Worcester Dental Watch” to call for solutions to a crisis in dental health problems among the poor.
In a show of cohesiveness, proponents and opponents of fluoridation and others said they want action to solve the city’s oral health problems, especially among school-age children.
“We need to approach national foundations for dollars,” said Ronald E. Charette, executive director of the South Worcester and Green Island neighborhood centers. “Unless you’ve got a coalition all working on the same page, national foundations are not going to bother with you.”
The question of fluoridating the drinking water was defeated last fall in a citywide election after more than $400,000 had been spent in a campaign to win over voters.
The ballot question was the result of a report released by the state two years ago that described a crisis in oral health among those least able to afford dental care.
At the time, the three entities supporting fluoridation, the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, the Central Massachusetts Oral Health Initiative and the city of Worcester, said fluoridating water was only a part of the solution.
In the six months since the election, little action has taken place among the three entities to address the problem, according to William T. Breault, chairman of the Main South Alliance for Public Safety.
Mr. Breault said the health foundation recently gave Fitchburg a $600,000 grant to provide dental care to thousands in northern Worcester County who cannot afford to visit a dentist. Fitchburg has fluoridated water.
“What are they doing in Worcester?” Mr. Breault asked during a press conference at the South Worcester Neighborhood Center on Camp Street.
Worcester Dental Watch would like to start a multi-year program similar to Fitchburg, he said, so that long-term problems can be addressed.
The grass-roots coalition would also like the oral health initiative and the health foundation to offer a detailed assessment of the crisis in Worcester, provide a treatment plan and issue quarterly progress reports as well as numbers and locations of patients treated.
The group would like the city to provide easy access to public health information, negotiate with schools to guarantee their participation and fund dental care programs at a level similar to what would have been spent on fluoridation.
The watchdog organization also suggested holding regular dental clinics in schools, asking schools to stop serving sugary and unhealthy food, snacks and drinks, set up educational programs on proper nutrition, set up dental clinics for adults, supply toothbrushes and toothpaste to all those who need them on a regular basis, and educate mothers on the dangers of tooth decay when they allow sleeping babies to keep bottles in their mouths.
School Committee member Joseph C. O’Brien said schools need to play a larger role in teaching oral hygiene to children. He suggested such training could be incorporated into the health curriculum.
Mr. Charette said there are eight dentists in the city who treat low-income patients and are reimbursed by health care insurer Mass Health, but there is a need for more dentists to offer such services. One problem with reimbursements, he said, is that it can take up to nine months to receive payments.
Deirdre Staples, who opposed fluoridation, questioned how the health foundation planned to use what remains of a $1 million allocation to the city. The foundation, she said, spent more than $400,000 of the grant promoting fluoride, but the rest of the money has apparently not been spent.
Others participating yesterday were Deborah E. Moore, a leader of the anti-fluoride campaign last year; resident Linda A. Zambarano; and David Johnson, director of the Quinsigamond Village Community Center and active in other community organizations.
District 4 City Councilor Barbara Haller, chairman of the city’s health committee, said oral health and the city’s homeless are on the committee’s agenda next Tuesday.
“It’s a top priority,” she said.
Worcester Dental Watch
April 25, 2002
Contacts: William Breault (508) 795-7197 or (508) 426-3536 (pager)
Deirdre Staples (508) 421-7727
* * * * * * * * NEWS RELEASE * * * * * * * *
WORCESTER — Two years ago, the State of Massachusetts issued a report describing a crisis in oral health in a part of the population that has extremely limited access to dental services. It was on the basis of this report that a massive effort to fluoridate Worcester took place, costing approximately $400,000. The proponents of this effort said fluoridation was to be only a “part” of the solution to this crisis. Several times since the election, those who promoted fluoridation the most vigorously have stated their resolve to put programs in place to deal with the ongoing crisis.
Many people in Worcester, whether or not they supported fluoridation, have been wondering what is the status of the additional programs discussed by the three entities most involved in the campaign to fluoridate: The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts (HFCM), the Central Massachusetts Oral Health Initiative (CMOHI); and the City of Worcester.
More than two years have passed since the State’s Oral Health Report, which is more than adequate time to address and begin to fix, on the local level, inadequate dental services for the needy, and create new approaches to poor dental health in general in this population, especially since funding and organization have been readily available.
Community members are aware that the HFCM still has a large fund committed to this population and this problem, and it can be assumed that the CMOHI has not given up on the issue. It can also be assumed that the City of Worcester, which also strongly supported fluoridation, still cares enough about the problem to do everything it can to enable any effort to deal with it.
Some Worcester citizens have decided it would be beneficial for the community to form a watchdog organization: a) to determine what has already been done towards defining and fixing the problem; b) to be made aware of ongoing plans; c) to stimulate needed action; and d) to ensure accountability of those who are working on these plans. We are establishing Worcester Dental Watch, a grassroots coalition of concerned people from the Worcester community, coming together from both sides of the fluoridation issue.
Much can be accomplished in the short run and on the local level with the wealth of the HFCM, the organization and expertise of the CMOHI, and the political and structural wherewithal of the City. While we would like to look ahead to more fundamental changes to correct the severe imbalances in state monies and priorities, and to set up long-lasting programs for both children and adults, – for now, on a local level, much CAN be done, and MUST be started immediately.
Worcester Dental Watch offers a rationale and suggestions, and articulates reasonable expectations for the three above named entities. WDW invites any concerned people from the community to join our effort to ensure dental services to the disadvantaged, as well as new school programs to ensure common sense educational, preventive, and treatment approaches in the schools. We hope that each of these three entities will respond positively to our expectations, and allow us all to work together to solve this community problem. To join and support our effort, please call: (508) 795-7197 or write to: Worcester Dental Watch, 1 Hathaway St., Worcester, MA 01610.
Details of our rationale, expectations, and suggestions for programs follow:
STATEMENT OF RATIONALE and EXPECTATIONS
Worcester Dental Watch
Whereas there is apparent great need in certain subsets of the population for dental services currently not adequately available and resulting in what has been described as an “oral health crisis”,
Whereas water fluoridation is not now an option, and never was meant to be a substitute for adequate dental care,
Whereas the City of Worcester, the Central Massachusetts Oral Health Initiative, and the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, Inc., all demonstrated great concern for the dental health of this population by initiating an extensive and expensive fluoridation campaign and advocating strongly for fluoridation,
Whereas the above named entities are those that are the policy-makers and/or have
the financial and organizational resources to effect positive change in the area of dental health of the disadvantaged,
Whereas the CMOHI and the HFCM are already collaborating on approaches to this problem and apparently have personnel in place to ascertain and implement these approaches,
Whereas these two agencies do not answer directly to any government or other body and thus have no meaningful oversight or procedure for accountability,
THEREFORE, in order to assure that the objectives of the above agencies are dealt with effectively, Worcester Dental Watch expects that all possible avenues to deal with the dental health problems of the disadvantaged will be explored and implemented. We expect that the three above named entities will work together to form substantive programs that will: (1) educate as part of prevention measures; and (2) give direct care to all those in need.
As a grass-roots watchdog coalition, WDW will expect:
— the CMOHI/HFCM to offer
(a) an initial, detailed, and quantified assessment of the oral health crisis in Worcester
(b) a detailed treatment plan/implementation schedule
(c) quarterly public progress reports of the programs implemented, as well as numbers and locations of patients treated
and will expect
— the City of Worcester to
(a) provide easy access to any public health or other information that will help expedite any programs
(b) negotiate with schools to guarantee their participation in these programs
(c) fund dental care programs for at least the minimum amount of funding that would have been required for fluoridation.
The following are common sense suggestions of feasible programs, many of which can surely be implemented almost immediately, and others soon after:
1) Set up education programs, through schools, on dental hygiene, for both parents and students.
2) Set up education programs on proper nutrition, for both parents and students.
3) Set up dental clinics for adults, using volunteer time from all the many concerned dentists in the city; ALL dentists can be involved by organizing themselves or being organized to offer a small part of their services to disadvantaged adult clients. Reasonable sliding scales can be implemented for those clients who can offer something.
4) Hold regular dental clinics in schools, starting in kindergarten, for cleanings, diagnostics, and cavities treatments, and including voluntary fluoride rinses and sealant treatments.
5) Seriously consider the use of Xylitol chewing gum as preventive treatment. Xylitol gum has been used successfully as a preventive measure in other countries for some years now, and enjoys support in peer-reviewed studies. Use of Xylitol in this way could replace the risk of using concentrated doses of fluoride in rinses for young children.
6) Rid schools of sugary and unhealthy foods, snacks and drinks, in cafeterias as well as vending machines, and replace with wholesome snacks such as fruits and nuts. This can be done on a phase-out, phase-in basis.
7) Supply free toothpaste and toothbrushes for all who need them on an ongoing basis.
8) Educate mothers – particularly low-income mothers – on the dangers of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay Syndrome.
9) The City and school administrations must work in unison to open the schools to offer and welcome dental programs, clinics, services, etc.
10) Do NOT use these programs or use any more time or resources on positioning for future efforts to fluoridate the city’s water.