Health Happenings. Kansas Health Foundation. Changing Lives. Improving Health. May 2012

New campaign shines light on oral health solution

Ounce of prevention. Pound of cure.

Since the Kansas Health Foundation launched its "Truth About Teeth" campaign in early March to raise awareness about the oral health crisis in our state, the message has been loud and clear from Kansans: These problems are unacceptable and solutions are needed.

One such solution is at the center of the Foundation's latest public awareness campaign: water fluoridation. "Water fluoridation has been effectively reducing tooth decay and improving oral health in cities and towns throughout the U.S. for more than 65 years," said Steve Coen, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation. "It is a proven solution to eliminating many of the oral health problems currently plaguing Kansans."

Coen points to three main reasons why water fluoridation is such an effective oral health solution: It is safe, affordable and smart.

From a safety standpoint, fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in water and many foods. When a city's water has the optimal level of fluoride (0.7 parts per million), tooth decay in that city is reduced by as much as 25 percent. Water fluoridation is also a very cost-effective public health intervention and one that carries a significant return on investment. Studies suggest that every $1 invested in water fluoridation saves $38 in dental care, a significant figure in light of rising health care costs in recent years.

The health care savings are an example of why major dental and medical associations have endorsed water fluoridation for decades as a smart way to improve both oral health and overall health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called water fluoridation "one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century," while endorsements for the practice have been given by the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and many other groups.

Currently, more than 200 million Americans, including some Kansans, have access to fluoridated drinking water. Notably absent from the list of fluoridated communities is Wichita, which is one of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. that still hasn't taken advantage of the health benefits of water fluoridation.

"Wichita is such a large population center for this state, and if the water were fluoridated here, it would make a major impact on oral health in Kansas," Coen said. "The optimal level for fluoride is 0.7 parts per million and Wichita has 0.33 parts per million naturally occurring. We're already halfway there, and with just a little more fluoride in the water, Wichita and surrounding communities will enjoy many of the oral health benefits seen by so many other communities."

The Foundation's campaign is set to run throughout the summer. It will raise awareness about the health benefits of water fluoridation through broadcast, print and outdoor advertising, as well as digital mediums like a dedicated campaign website and a connection to the Foundation's Facebook page.

To learn more about water fluoridation and the Foundation's campaign, visit