PAUL Connett’s critics in the dental business call him a zealot, as a shorthand putdown for being driven, single-minded and passionate in the anti-fluoridation cause.
Yes, he is all of those things, though the term he prefers is evangelist.
“Fluoridation is a live rail as far as ridicule is concerned,” he says.
Put simply, he says fluoridation is mass human experimentation that is slowly, surely poisoning everyone who drinks the water.
Now retired, the former Professor of Chemistry at St Lawrence University, in New York State, has made it his mission in life to end the fluoridation of tap water wherever he goes.
The 70-year-old was in Adelaide last week at the invitation of Independent MP Ann Bressington. He held a briefing at Parliament House attended by about half a dozen MPs.
Not that the low turnout troubles Connett. “Six out of 47 is a start.”
Adelaide’s drinking water has been fluoridated since 1971. Last October, fluoride was introduced into Mount Gambier’s water supply for the first time amid a furious public debate.
Not having a choice of being “dosed” with fluoride is unethical experimentation, Connett says.
Certainly fluoride is toxic if ingested in high doses well above the levels in the normal water supply. But Connett argues any level is dangerous.
He doesn’t mind if people want to brush with fluoride toothpaste; his problem is when people are forced to swallow fluoridated water regardless of their age, body size, fluoride tolerance or the possible health consequences.
Among some of the long-term risks he suggests are retarded IQ in children, bone cancer in pre-pubescent boys, hip fractures in the elderly and maybe even an Alzheimer’s link, and that fluoride accumulates in the brain’s pineal gland with so far unknown ramifications.
“They have never done proper health studies in Australia. They have studied fluoride on teeth but never on human health.”
To Connett, the risks are too great and outweigh whatever benefits are claimed for reduced dental decay, which he anyway disputes with a stream of figures to show that fluoride makes negligible difference to decay rates. He says in fact fluoride can leave teeth mottled with dental fluorosis.
To end water fluoridation is not going to be easy or quick, if it happens at all, but he is not daunted.
“One city at a time,” he says.
In recent victories for his side, the Canadian city of Calgary voted to end fluoridation, as did the village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, which began the fluoridation of its drinking water in 1959.
The fluoride debate can be intense, angry and emotional.
Connett’s critics accuse him of needless scaremongering, saying there is no verifiable link between fluoride and the health risks he fears.
Connett, in turn, sees a conspiracy and a cover-up at the highest levels of government. He talks about the “myth of fluoridation”, which he says is deception on a massive scale.
He says some of his critics, who include academics, are hopelessly conflicted through sponsored “gravy train” relationships with such companies as toothpaste maker Colgate.
And so it continues, back and forth, in an angry debate from which the public never gets a definitive answer to the one crucial question: Is it safe to fluoridate drinking water?
Connett, naturally, backs himself as the eventual winner, confident that independent scientists will prove him right as their research comes together over time.
He says this would pose a major problem for fluoride’s advocates, since important reputations are at stake and the potential lawsuits would be massive wherever drinking water has been fluoridated.
Meantime, he continues the fight, tooth and claw.