According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the collective annual cost of dental care in the United States is over $113 billion, while another $6 billion is lost when Americans miss work to address oral health issues. Oral diseases—which range from cavities to gum disease to oral cancer—cause pain and disability for millions of Americans. Cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases among children. More than 90% of adults have at least one cavity, and 27% have untreated decay.
Cavities are, however, largely preventable. Over the last several decades, oral health in the United States has significantly improved since the introduction of community water fluoridation. This intervention was recognized as one of ten great public health achievements of the 20th century. Water fluoridation prevents cavities by providing frequent and consistent contact with low levels of fluoride, ultimately reducing cavities by 25% in children and adults. Water fluoridation is also the best method of delivering fluoride to all members of the community, regardless of age, education, income level or access to routine dental care.
To further national oral health outcomes, NACCHO, in partnership with the CDC, launched an initiative in January 2017 offering funding and technical assistance to support local communities. The pilot project “Building Capacity for Oral Health: Fluoridation Equipment in Local Communities” was designed to support either the replacement of aging water fluoridation equipment or the installation of new equipment. This one-time funding opportunity also helped identify the need for assistance to support core infrastructure and inform future opportunities for similar projects.
“Science has demonstrated the effectiveness and benefits of water fluoridation on oral health,” explained Dr. William M. Barnes, NACCHO’s Interim Executive Director and Chief Programs Officer. “NACCHO and the CDC are collaborating to help communities maintain their support for water fluoridation, especially in rural and low-income areas. We are committed to reducing health disparities and improving the quality of life for everyone.”
Casey Hannan, CDC’s Acting Director in the Division of Oral Health, further emphasized health equity as the initiative’s core aim, as water fluoridation is one of the most practical, cost-effective, equitable, and safe measures to improve a community’s oral health.
“For 70 years, people in the United States have benefited from drinking water with fluoride, with each generation enjoying better oral health than the one before,” Hannan said. “Aging equipment is a major barrier to water systems maintaining water fluoridation. We are pleased this funding will help communities continue providing such an important resource to promote public health.”
Local need for the project was demonstrated almost immediately upon the receipt of nearly 30 grant applications across 13 states despite a relatively short submission timeline. After a thorough review process, six organizations were selected as awardees based on community need and capacity. In total, this project stands to positively impact the oral health of nearly 450,000 Americans, including almost 40% who reside in rural areas. Grantees include:
- Bowling Green Municipal Utilities, KY: $6,228 (pop. 125,000)
- City of Fircrest, WA: $22,000 (pop. 6,500)
- City of Kannapolis, NC: $24,050 (pop. 53,100)
- Jefferson Parish Water Department East Bank, LA: $28,610 (pop. 243,782)
- Versailles Municipal Utility, KY: $35,000 (pop. 6,200)
- West Virginia Oral Health Coalition, WV: $7,415 (pop. 1,634)
Dr. Jason Roush, West Virginia’s State Dental Director and Chair for the Fluorides Committee of the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors, explained the urgent local need this project would address.
“As water systems age in West Virginia, public service districts are looking to cut costs, and without adequate knowledge, discontinuing fluoridation seems to be a method to cut overall costs in equipment and on-going maintenance and supplies. The cost benefit from cavity prevention is not always known or considered, making funding opportunities such as this all the more important.”
MeChaune Butler, Louisiana’s Oral Health Program Manager, echoed Roush’s sentiment in a letter of support for the Jefferson Parish Water Department East Bank.
“This grant is essential to enhance better oral health outcomes for the children and families [we serve].”
NACCHO plans to interview grantees in the near future to discuss their progress so far and any challenges they may be encountering. Stay tuned for additional features (on this blog) profiling the awardees taking part in this project and the communities they represent.