Fluoridation was a controversial topic even before Kubrick’s Base Commander Ripper railed against “the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids” in the 1964 film Dr Strangelove (www.indelibleinc.com/kubrick/films/strangelove/). This week’s BMJ shouldn’t precipitate a global holocaust, but it does seem that Base Commander Ripper may have had a point. The systematic review published this week (p 855) shows that much of the evidence for fluoridation was derived from low quality studies, that its benefits may have been overstated, and that the risk to benefit ratio for the development of the commonest side effect (dental fluorosis, or mottling of the teeth) is rather high.
Supplementary materials are available on the BMJ ‘s website and on that of the review’s authors (www.york.ac.uk/inst/crd/fluorid.htm), enhancing the validity of the conclusions through transparency of process. For example, the “frequently asked questions” page of the site explains who comprised the advisory panel and how they were chosen (“balanced to include those for and against, as well as those who are neutral”), and the site includes the minutes of their meetings. You can also pick up all 279 references in Word97 format, and tables of data in PDF. Such transparency is admirable and can only encourage rationality of debate.
Professionals who propose compulsory preventive measures for a whole population have a different weight of responsibility on their shoulders than those who respond to the requests of individuals for help. Previously neutral on the issue, I am now persuaded by the arguments that those who wish to take fluoride (like me) had better get it from toothpaste rather than the water supply (see www.derweb.co.uk/bfs/index.html and www.npwa.freeserve.co.uk/index.html for the two viewpoints).