A team of graduate students in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Gillings School of Global Public Health’s department of health policy and management has helped convince the Mississippi state legislature to require communities in the state to fluoridate their water. The students include Ms. Lauren Brown, Dr. Kim Hammersmith, Ms. Ashley Kranz, Ms. Presha Patel and Mr. Bhav Shukla. Also instrumental was Dr. Nick Mosca, Mississippi State Dental Director and a student in the school’s distance education Doctor of Public Health program in health policy and management.

As part of a core master’s course on health care in the U.S., taught by Dr. Edward (Ned) Brooks, professor in the department, students were assigned a state and a broad topic area – in this case, “dental health.” Their goal was to work with state officials to design and implement a practical public health plan.

Dr. Mosca asked the students to conduct research on water fluoridation and other states’ mandates on the process. Last fall, he shared their findings with the Mississippi State Board of Health. Board members then passed a regulatory mandate in April 2009 requiring that all communities with a population of 2,000 or more would have fluoride added to their water supply.

Later in April, Dr. Hammersmith andMs. Kranz took the team’s findings to the National Oral Health Conference in Portland, OR, where Dr. Hammersmith made a poster presentation to dentists and dental directors from around the country. The presentation generated active discussion, given the audience’s awareness of Mississippi’s recent decision and the fact that Portland is the nation’s largest unfluoridated city.

“As a dentist,” Dr. Hammersmith said, “I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I knew nothing about community water fluoridation before taking on this project. Not only did I gain a lot of knowledge and insight about this very polarizing issue within public health, but our group was able to contribute our knowledge and research to the actual discussion of fluoridation at the state level. Mississippi’s mandate will benefit enough of the state’s population to reach the Healthy People 2010’s goal of 75 percent of those on public water systems receiving fluoridated water. I’m proud to have played a small role in that.”

“This project was a great example of student activity being an important part of a real-world public health benefit,” said Dr. Brooks, who taught the course. “I couldn’t be prouder of them for what they’ve accomplished.”

Dr. Hammersmith, Ms. Kranz and Mr. Shukla developed their findings into a paper published in the May 2009 issue of the Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association.

[Pictured above (left-right) are team members Dr. Kim Hammersmith, Ms. Lauren Brown and Ms. Ashley Kranz. Ms.Presha Patel and Mr. Bhav Shukla are not pictured.]

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See also: September 14, 2009, HPM students’ research contributes to Mississippi legislation (Fall, 2009)