Sherwood, Ark. — When the Arkansas General Assembly passed a fluoridation law in 2011, 34 water systems statewide faced startup costs to comply with the law. Thanks to a donation from Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation, about one-third of the water systems affected have completed the implementation process and all 34 should be fluoridating by sometime in 2016.
“It was a tremendous accomplishment getting the law passed,” said Billy Tarpley, executive director of the Arkansas State Dental Association. “It was a huge, broad-based endeavor by the state’s dentists and other health care providers, the ASDA and ADA, the state department of health, an oral health coalition, other concerned groups and Delta. We couldn’t have gotten it passed without Delta’s contribution, which kept the law from being an unfunded mandate.”
The law calls for water systems that serve 5,000 or more customers to fluoridate without using taxpayer dollars for startup costs. Initial startup cost estimates came in around $500,000, which Delta’s foundation readily agreed to cover, said Melissa Masingill, vice president of public affairs for Delta Dental of Arkansas. But when water systems began to submit their grant applications to cover startup costs, it became clear that the bottom line cost would be in the neighborhood of $7-8 million.
“Delta is still committed to paying the start-up costs for the affected water systems,” said Ms. Masingill. “Our mission is to improve the oral health of Arkansans, and we know that providing access to fluoridated water is one of the most cost-effective ways to fulfill that mission.”
Ms. Masingill said that the water systems are submitting their grant applications on a rolling basis, so that all 34 startups are staggered over time and the process from grant approval to implementation of fluoridated water takes between six and 18 months, depending on the water system.
The collaborative effort to pass the legislation, she added, included educating legislators on the importance and effectiveness of fluoridation and showing them data that showed that two-thirds of Arkansans supported it. When all of the water systems are online, some 700,000 additional residents will be receiving the benefits of optimal water fluoridation.
“We are happy to support the hard work and dedication of Arkansas dentists and everyone else who worked together to make it happen. Our foundation just adopted a long-term, strategic goal for children in Arkansas to be cavity free by 2025, and fluoridation will be a big part of this effort, especially for children in underserved areas,” said Ms. Masingill.
“We really appreciate Delta’s contribution to this effort,” Mr. Tarpley said. “Delta played a critical role in getting the legislation passed and supporting the work of our dentists and the coalition. Even though the cost was much higher than originally projected, they stepped up to make this accomplishment a reality.”