How to Talk About Community Water Fluoridation

Oral health and water fluoridation are simply not top of mind for most people. Not until they have a problem with their teeth or gums. People will pay more attention to what is most important to them, what keeps them up at night, and what they value most. It is important to use these shared or community values to frame your discussion on water fluoridation in order to ensure it resonates and connects with people.

Three Tips to Success

Identify your community values.
Develop a message around water fluoridation that focuses on these community values.
Adapt your message for different audiences.

Before identifying community values

Think about the demographics of your community. Who are likely to be your allies? Who stands to benefit the most from community water fluoridation? Who must you reach out to and gain their support? Who votes? These are the people you want to think about when developing your messages.

Identifying community values

  • Use existing meetings or gatherings. Find meetings that are already scheduled such as a parent-teacher organization meeting, a book club, etc. Ask the organizers if you can take 15 minutes of their time.
  • Invite your neighbors or friends to your house for dinner or coffee.

Ask participants the following three questions. Keep your key audiences in mind.

Questions:

  1. What do you (and other community members) like about living in this community?
  2. What’s important to you — what do you value?
  3. What makes a community healthy?

If you have more time and resources…

Information gathering through focus groups and key informant interviews will help gain in-depth insight into your community. You can do this on your own or work with a marketing or research agency. Download a sample focus group guide.

Developing your message

Now that you understand what people value and care about, you can use the information to frame the community water fluoridation conversation. Developing messages isn’t an exact science. It’s ok to keep refining as you go or have slightly different messages depending upon your audience.

  1. Develop a main message using the values that were identified or discussed the most. For example, should your message focus on supporting children and building a strong future? Should you address the financial and economic benefits to the community due to the money saved in fewer emergency room visits or Medicaid payments for painful cavities? Create a positive message and stay away from a negative tone, which is often used by the opposition. Download sample values-based messages.
  2. Create talking points based on the main message to be used in conversations with neighbors, colleagues, and decision-makers. Be sure to include:
    • The benefits of water fluoridation for your community (e.g. the need that community water fluoridation will fill, who will benefit the most, money saved)
    • The science behind water fluoridation (but never lead with the science and facts – lead with your community values!)
    • Call to action (an “ask”) such as “please sign this letter in support of community water fluoridation.”

    Download sample talking points.

  1. Test the message. Find people in your community through an existing meeting or by inviting a group of friends to your house for lunch or dinner. Ask them these key questions:
    1. What is this message saying to you?
    2. Do you like this message?
      • Yes: ask them why?
      • No: ask them why not and how they might change the message?
    3. Does this message make you want to learn more about community water fluoridation?
    4. Does this message make you want to support community water fluoridation?

You can use the results of your informal testing to finalize your main message and talking points. Remember to always keep your audience in mind (neighbors, policymakers, etc.).