I Like My Teeth
The federal Centers for Disease Control has hailed community water fluoridation as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. But conspiracy theorists have leveraged the Internet to spread junk science that makes fluoridation seem harmful to health.
Ignore the kooks. Or argue the science, sure that logic will win the day.
Misinformation is tricky. Repeating false information, even if only to argue against it, can unintentionally solidify better-known junk science in people’s minds. But ignoring it is also a mistake. For a long time public health took this approach, assuming regular people could tell conspiracy theory fiction from fact. Instead, left unaddressed, junk science flourished throughout the Internet and planted widespread seeds of doubt. Next came advocacy efforts to roll back local community water fluoridation (CWF) programs. Tapped by a major national foundation to counteract misinformation and ensure every American has access to the cheapest, most effective way to protect teeth, M4C conducted sets of focus groups in communities where fluoridation was a political issue and found science-based messages from organizations such as the ADA and CDC were being drowned out by pseudo-science groups such as the Fluoride Action Network, both on the ground and online. We helped communities craft clearer messaging and created ILikeMyTeeth.org to amplify the voices of public health experts online. Next, in four days of research online, we found exposing people to the science and ignoring the opponents actually backfired. When told only about the benefits of fluoridation, some one-time supporters became surprised by critics’ arguments online and switched to skeptics. But when participants heard both arguments beforehand, fewer flipped. The critics’ safety concerns did not surprise them. This changed some of our messaging and approach. We used search engine optimization (SEO) to funnel the curious to a page describing the “debate” around CWF, even though that debate was decided long ago in the scientific community. This framing inoculates visitors against the misguided arguments of the anti-fluoridationists.
While most websites dedicated to factual information about fluoride can only be found after scrolling through several pages of Google search results, I Like My Teeth surged to the top 10. Overall, organic traffic to the website jumped 277%. Since then, we have expanded the content and outreach materials to Spanish speakers, low literacy audiences, and water operators. We also created an online tool with downloadable resources targeted to dentists and other healthcare providers spread the word, under the unifying theme of “Life Is Better with Teeth.”