Potsdam, N.Y. — Following a year of public discussion, an outspoken group of health care professionals and residents in this village of about 16,000 helped convince officials to continue fluoridating the local water supply.
The Potsdam Village Board voted 4-1 Sept. 17 to continue water fluoridation for about 10,000 on the water system. The issue came up about a year ago when officials discussed replacing outdated fluoridation equipment. A village resident “started pressuring trustees to have fluoride removed, falsely claiming it was leaching lead from the pipes,” said Potsdam oral surgeon Dr. Lee Akin, who was among the local dentists who helped educate others about the safety and efficacy of water fluoridation.
Dr. Akin said a lot of his time at public meetings on the matter was spent refuting misinformation shared by a small group of people in the town opposing fluoridation.
Dr. Akin said his own education related to the safety and effectiveness of fluoridation was key in helping others understand. Having earned his D.D.S. at the University of California San Francisco, Dr. Akin counts UCSF professor Dr. Howard Pollick as a mentor. Dr. Pollick has published research on the role of fluoride in the prevention of tooth decay and serves as an ADA spokesman on fluoride.
At least five other local dentists publicly shared facts about fluoridation, while ER doctors, cardiologists, neurologists, endocrinologists and pediatricians in the Potsdam area also shared testimony related to fluoridation as a public health benefit, said Dr. Akin.
Andrew Williams, M.D., is an associate medical director of a hospital system in the Potsdam area and also the director of a community health center and president of the county health board. He was among the physicians to share testimony at public meetings.
Dr. Williams said making village trustees aware of the facts was his priority, which he did with the help of information resources from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“I felt very strongly that we, as a medical and dental community, could not let the anti-fluoride activists take such a critical public health measure away,” said Dr. Williams in an email to the ADA News.
In addition to testimonies at public meetings, Drs. Akin and Williams helped launch letter writing campaigns and phone drives and collected signatures from more than 130 health care professionals and academicians in the area for two letters sent to village board members. They also made and distributed “I love Fluoride” T-shirts and organized door-to-door campaigns, with Dr. Akin’s wife, Ginger, among those who participated in helping inform residents. “Many residents were unaware of the pending vote and surprised the trustees would even consider its elimination,” said Dr. Akin.
When it came time to vote, village board members who voted “yes” cited the importance of preventive medicine and their trust of local health care professionals, according to a local news report about the vote.
Dr. Williams said the collaboration among area physicians, dentists, academics and residents “was indispensable.” They also welcomed assistance from the American Fluoridation Society. “We were able to work together to emphasize that community water fluoridation is a safe, effective, economical and ethical public health intervention hat helps those in greatest need,” said Dr. Williams.
When asked what dentists in municipalities where fluoridation is being discussed should do, Dr. Akin suggested getting or staying informed about the scientific research related to fluoride by reading the ADA publication Fluoridation Facts and visiting the American Academy of Pediatrics fluoridation website, ILikeMyTeeth.org.
“Resist apathy,” said Dr. Akin, and “work closely with hospital and medical community.”
Since 1950, the ADA has endorsed water fluoridation as a safe and effective public health measure for the prevention of tooth decay. For more information about the ADA’s efforts or for resources from the ADA about fluoridation, visit ADA.org/Fluoride or email Jane McGinley, manager of fluoridation and preventive health activities at the ADA, at firstname.lastname@example.org.