Talking to Policymakers

While it is important to educate the public about community water fluoridation and to gain support from key community leaders, it is nearly impossible to successfully enact community water fluoridation without the support of policymakers – those who decide whether (or not) to fluoridate your community. Your Community Champions may personally know key policymakers and decision-makers, and can play a critical role in making them aware of the support for water fluoridation in the community, its health benefits, and cost savings.

Three Tips to Success

Identify the key decision-makers for community water fluoridation in your community.
Do your homework – learn as much as you can about the decision-makers.
Make sure that the “right” people are reaching out – relationships matter!

Identify the key policymakers and decision-makers

  • Local government officials (e.g. city/town council, board of select) are often responsible for implementing water fluoridation or holding it back.
  • Local health department. In some states, the local health department orders community water fluoridation.
  • Water operator/water commission. They know all about the water plant and water sources, and will be responsible for implementing and monitoring fluoride in the public water supply.
  • Ballot initiative or referendum. In some communities, community water fluoridation is implemented through a ballot initiative. But it’s still important to educate decision-makers and get them on your side.

Know your policymakers and the politics

Before you contact policymakers, be sure to find out critical information that can help you think strategically about your meetings with them. Engage the Community Champions or other stakeholders – they might be able to provide the information and insight you need.

  • Know where a particular policymaker stands on community water fluoridation. If you know policymakers who are supportive, it’s best to reach out to them first so they can talk with their colleagues. Policymaker-to-policymaker discussions can work very well.
  • Learn how they have voted on issues around budget, public health, or regulation. The answers might provide insight into their position on community water fluoridation.
  • Find out if there are current, pressing issues that they are focused on. If policymakers are pre-occupied, it may not be the best time to reach out. However, you might be able to link water fluoridation to the issue(s) they care about as well.
  • Determine the start-up costs for community water fluoridation (e.g. equipment and space). Your local health department or water operator can help with this information. Also, many health departments will cover the cost of initiating water fluoridation.

Your spokespeople matter – be strategic

Think carefully about who are the best representatives to meet with decision-makers – who will decision-makers listen to and be most influenced by. Is it a dentist or pediatrician, a parent or a school nurse, a teacher or a well-known business leader? They all make great Community Champions for water fluoridation!

Be clear about what you want from your decision-makers

It’s important to have a concrete and clear “ask” of your decision-makers. Make certain that they know exactly what you want from them and be sure to follow up after the meeting.

  • If they support community water fluoridation, how do you want them to demonstrate that support – by putting it on the agenda for discussion and a vote? To talk with their colleagues and gain their support for community water fluoridation? To publicly endorse community water fluoridation?
  • If they don’t support community water fluoridation or know very little about community water fluoridation, be sure that decision-makers understand that there is support in the community for water fluoridation, and get them to agree to review the facts and science behind community water fluoridation that you provide. See if they are a willing to talk with a local dentist or other community supporters.

Download a template for policymaker talking points.

What else to prepare for your meeting

Put together a packet of materials to leave behind, including:

What’s next

It’s important to keep the communication ongoing with your decision-makers after you’ve met with them. Be sure to thank them for their time and to make yourself available for any questions.

Stay in touch with decision-makers and remind them that fluoridating your community is a priority.

  • Follow up from time-to-time with updates on community or national support, or by sending articles of interest about fluoridation implementation in other parts of the country.
  • Design a letter writing campaign so that policymakers hear from their constituents who support community water fluoridation.
  • Ask them to meet or speak with dental and medical professionals in your community (if they have not already) so they can understand the burden of oral health and community water fluoridation’s role in reducing that burden.

You may get resistance from policymakers who think that community water fluoridation is “controversial” or costs too much. Despite its proven effectiveness and safety, water fluoridation is a highly politicized and polarizing issue. Not to worry… just be prepared. Check out the information on fluoride opponents  including common arguments used by the opposition.