“Lauren, the City Council just proposed an ordinance to stop fluoridating the city’s water.”
Those words ignited a fire inside me much larger than I would have imagined. Coming from a home with a mother as a dental hygienist, who gave my sister and I fluoride supplements until we had access to fluoridated water, I was angered by the threat to the work my mother and the dentists in the city had done to get fluoride added to the water supply in 2000. Now, the City Council of Aberdeen was questioning the safety and effectiveness of fluoride–again.
While I wanted to sit at school and vent to my classmates about this issue, I knew my coping strategy would do no good for anyone, especially for the citizens of my hometown. After brainstorming some ideas with a colleague, I thought of three simple ideas I could employ, which sparked a major shift in the dialogue on water fluoridation’s safety and effectiveness in the city:
First, I wrote a research paper–for one of my courses–about community water fluoridation’s ability to tip the scale away from dental caries for a price of $1 per $38 of treatment savings. Of course, fluoride isn’t infallible, but it does help a lot of individuals simply by drinking tap water! My second step was to speak at the City Council meeting in Aberdeen over my winter break and, thirdly, distribute copies of my research paper. I made sure I came with a few key points: Not everyone has access to dental care and caries can cause unnecessary physical and financial suffering for those who are most vulnerable; my home town (and county) has a health care professional shortage in nearly every field, including dental medicine; my home town ranks among the highest unemployment rates and lowest income per capita in the state; community water fluoridation has been supported by surgeons general and is repeatedly shown to be safe and effective; and fluoride occurs naturally in all water supplies, including the oceans, which makes community water fluoridation more of an “adjustment” of levels, rather than a novel additive. Once I spoke at the council meeting, I thought my job was compete. However, shortly thereafter, a community leader came to the podium with impromptu comments to endorse the points I had made. After the meeting finished, I was interviewed by multiple radio stations (both in studio and in the City Council chambers) and my statements were featured in the city newspaper the next day. I was stunned at the number of people who listened to my opinion.
However, I’m not writing this blog for the sake of telling a story. I want to share easy advocacy tips for the topics you find close to your heart, whether it is for the future of the profession, patients, or education, there is something that you can contribute:
Are you shy? Consider using ASDA Engage to write to your senators and representatives! Of course, you should do this even if you aren’t shy…
Do you have a local issue you’re passionate about? Write letters and e-mails to your elected officials to tell them how you feel! You might even consider asking a faculty member for a brief statement to back your opinion. It’s never too early (or late) to connect with your faculty, who undoubtedly have knowledge they can pass down to you, in addition to being helpful when you’re applying for jobs and/or residencies.
Want to speak up? Attend a meeting where your issue of passion is being discussed! Then, be sure to sign up for state and national lobby days to put those skills to work for the future of organized dentistry and oral health.
Is networking the name of the game? Ask friends and individuals from other dental schools to join you in your efforts! ASDA is about passion (you might even call it a fever) and even if you don’t know your colleagues elsewhere, you’ll be sure to bond over your interest in contributing to the field.
Do you have your eyes on a location for future practice? If you identify an issue in that area, consider reaching out to local dental professionals and unite with them to take action. Bingo. You’re not only making a difference, but you’re also connecting with and learning from potential colleagues.
In conclusion, advocacy is for you. There will inevitably be something that all of us are frustrated by and feel an urge to change, whether it relates to insurance, licensure, water fluoridation or another topic. Now is the time to make your voice heard.
If not now, then when?
~Lauren Kuhn, Harvard ’17, District 1 associate chair on advocacy