Fluoride Victory in Durango

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A statewide effort let to Durango, Colo., residents voting to keep community water fluoridation.

From the Summer 2017 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association

When the oral health of Colorado comes into question, our state’s dentists respond. That was the clear case this past spring in Durango, where local dentists partnered with public health organizations and community members to defeat a citizen initiative to prohibit the addition of fluoride to the city’s drinking water.When the oral health of Colorado comes into question, our state’s dentists respond. That was the clear case this past spring in Durango, where local dentists partnered with public health organizations and community members to defeat a citizen initiative to prohibit the addition of fluoride to the city’s drinking water. “We know that oral health is directly linked to overall health and that community water fluoridation is one of the best ways to ensure that all members of our community receive the benefits of fluoride,” said Dr. Angela Pinkerton, a Durango pediatric dentist and president of the San Juan Basin Dental Society. “When it became clear that this initiative would be on the Durango ballot, we knew that dentists had to make sure that our community understood the benefits and safety of fluoridated water, while also ensuring that scare tactics and false information did not take over the conversation.”

That much anticipated misinformation campaign was quickly coming together in Durango, as it does in all community water fluoridation debates. But it was met just as swiftly with a resounding effort from the local community and statewide public health groups. The CDA partnered with Healthier Colorado and the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation to conduct a survey of Durango residents and to build a campaign plan to defeat Question 1 on the April ballot. 

“The poll was critical,” said Molly Pereira, CDA associate executive director. “We quickly learned that the majority of Durango residents supported community water fluoridation, believed it was safe and wanted factual information, instead of scare tactics, about fluoride. 

“Most importantly, Durango residents understood the health benefits of drinking water with fluoride and the importance of fluoridated water to children and lower income community members,” Pereira said.

From this survey came the tools to communicate the benefits of community water fluoridation to Durango voters—and ultimately an overwhelming 64% defeat of Question 1 on April 4.

There was plenty of hard work necessary to get to this victory. The CDA and Healthier Colorado provided staffing and financial resources to the campaign. This partnership became stronger by working with local dentists such as Dr. Pinkerton. The team also worked with local public health officials to better understand the health issues and needs of the community.

The key to the success of the campaign may have come down to a single person, Sherrod Beall, a Durango pediatric nurse practitioner. Beall partnered with Dr. Tony Palmer, a retired local anesthesiologist, to launch the Healthy Kids, Healthy Durango campaign against Question 1. Beall managed the day-to-day tasks of the campaign, including answering media inquiries, chasing endorsements from community leaders, finding yard sign locations and helping raise the money necessary to defeat Question 1.

“Many hands came together to build a successful campaign and to protect the health of our community,” said Beall, who was recognized by the CDA recently with its Oral Health Advocate award. “We could never have been successful without the strong local and statewide partnerships, dedication of local dentists, doctors, hygienists, nurses and others.”

Beall’s local efforts were supported by a strong campaign that included newspaper advertising, direct mail, Facebook and digital advertising, media outreach and lots of conversations with voters at chamber of commerce and other local events.

In the end, more than 100 community organizations, medical professionals, community leaders and statewide organizations endorsed the Healthy Kids, Healthy Durango campaign and publicly opposed Question 1. Two of the tipping points may have been opposition to Question 1 by the Durango School District Board of Education and the Durango Herald.  

“It became clear to these leading community voices that prohibiting fluoride in our drinking water would hurt our community, and they just could not support that measure,” said Dr. Mark Blue, a Durango periodontist who was among the many local dentists who contributed time and financial resources toward the campaign. 

Durango dentists also talked with their patients and families, and on one March morning, posted nearly 100 yard signs across the city. That effort was memorialized on a recent cover of ADA News.

“I can’t say thank you enough for the teamwork and collaboration put into this campaign by so many organizations and individuals,” Dr. Blue concluded. “Durango voters clearly saw the passion and resolve of our campaign and, most importantly, they understood that community water fluoridation is safe and effective—it has clear benefits to all members of our diverse community.” 

It’s likely there will be more fluoridation debates like Durango in the future. The CDA established the Colorado Fluoride Facts website and social media at cofluoridefacts.org to help our profession’s ongoing efforts to communicate the benefits of community water fluoridation. If you hear anything in your community about removing or adding fluoride to the drinking water, please do not hesitate to contact Molly Pereira at the CDA at 303-996-2844 or molly@cdaonline.org.