Early this month the Bega Valley Shire Council announced it is considering adding fluoride to all of the Valley’s water supply systems.
The news has divided the community. Strong pro and con arguments are raging, with even dentists agreeing to disagree.
Dr Gabriel Maratheftis from Eden Dental Clinic on Chandos Street says it’s about time.
“Fluoride is one of the best public health measures ever,” Dr Maratheftis said.
“It will prevent lots of suffering in children and adults and save a lot of public and private money.”
Dr Maratheftis has been a dentist for 30 years, with half the time spent in Sydney, half in Eden.
He told the Eden Magnet on Monday, November 16, that the comparison between the city – where drinking water is fluoridated – and Eden is like “night and day.”
“I can tell if someone was born here or not just from looking in their mouth,” Dr Maratheftis said.
“I didn’t see tooth decay in Sydney like I’ve seen here. It’s like going back in time for me.”
Interestingly, Dr Maratheftis has observed that the Eden locals with the best dental health are those living outside of town.
“Those drinking rain water captured in concrete tanks have significantly better teeth than those on town water, because of the fluoride in the concrete,” Dr Maratheftis said.
“If I was Prime Minister I would personally put it into everyone’s drinking water and provide free filters for those who want to remove it.”
“Fluoride is a naturally occurring element. People talk about it being toxic but you’d have to take it in ridiculous amounts. Chocolate can kill you. Panadol can kill you.”
It may not kill you, but fluoride can be – ironically – bad for your teeth, and it’s name is fluorosis.
For some people, fluoride consumption distorts the crystalline structure of the tooth’s enamel, resulting in vulnerability to decay, fracturing and discolouration.
And it’s clear every individual has a different level of tolerance.
“My niece in Sydney has fluorosis,” Dr Maratheftis admitted.
“The level of fluoride in the water is obviously too high for her. But her sister is fine.”
It’s exactly this idiosyncratic effect of fluoride that alarms those who are opposed to its blanket introduction to our drinking water.
Dr Maria Claudianos with the Beach Street Centre dental clinic in Merimbula told the Eden Magnet on Friday, November 13, she regards fluoridation as “an act of mass medication” which is “immoral and unethical”, with “arguable benefits”.
“For the last 12 years I’ve worked as a dentist in both public and general practice in rural, regional and city areas,” Dr Claudianos said.
“My clinical observation of dental health in different populations shows no significant difference between fluoridated and non-fluoridated water supplies.”
Dr Claudianos said the only measurable thing she has observed is a higher incidence of fluorosis in children who have grown up with fluoridated water supplies, and said other detrimental health affects include a “highly significant drop in IQ levels between children drinking fluoridated water compared to those without fluoridated water”, digestive enzyme malfunction, kidney disruption, hormone and thyroid problems.
Dr Claudianos said good dental health is more about genetics, mouth bacteria, saliva flow and good oral hygiene, and said the only way fluoride should be used is topically via toothpaste.
“It will certainly help clean teeth and encourage remineralisation of tooth structure with the presence of calcium and phosphate,” Dr Claudianos said.
“But more importantly the dosage and concentration can be controlled and specified for individual use.”
Concern about fluoride use goes deeper than human health.
Some warn that fluoride is a pollutant, not only to humans but the wider environment. Others warn that the fluoride chemicals used are toxic industrial waste by-products from phosphate fertiliser and aluminium manufacturing.
One of the first Australian towns to throw caution to the wind was Bega, which was fluoridated before Sydney over 40 years ago.
And employed for two years at the Bega Dental Practice is Dr Alexandra Kerr, fresh out of university.
“There seems to be a lot of decay in our region and I believe kids that are not getting fluoride in their water are at a disadvantage,” Dr Kerr said.
Dr Kerr said past problems with fluoride mostly arose from ingestion of toothpaste, incorrect use of fluoride tablets in children (now banned in Australia), and countries exceeding the now-accepted limit of fluoridation levels in drinking water.
“In Australia fluoride is added to community water supplies to maintain a concentration between 0.7 and 1.0 parts per million,” Dr Kerr said.
“It’s recognised that levels above 1.5 ppm increase the risk of mild dental fluorosis.”
“I believe the way it’s used in Australia is safe.”
Monitoring the parts per million of our drinking water will be the Bega Valley Shire Council, with Mayor Michael Britten upbeat about the introduction of fluoridated water.
“The council supports fluoridation of the shire’s drinking water, and all the science shows there’s no danger,” Cr Britten said.
“And the Department of NSW Health actually finances all the infrastructure to put this into place. Council then has to monitor it, such as the daily levels of fluoride feeding into the system.”
Cr Britten said council will add fluoride to drinking water “like people add chlorine to a swimming pool” and is excited about offering this service to the southern area of the shire.
“We’ve been providing fluoridated water to Bega and Tathra since 1963,” Cr Britten said.
“So now we want it in the south of the shire. That includes Bemboka, Bermagui, Merimbula and Eden.”
“My children grew up in Tathra and they are decay free. We want that for all the children of the shire.”
Cr Britten said the first step is “a broad based information program” inviting public opinion.
When asked for details of the “information program”, Cr Britten said he did not know what it entailed.
“It’s a system provided by the NSW Health Department, to be implemented by the council,” he said.
The Magnet then asked where the fluoride would be sourced.
“I don’t know where the fluoride is coming from; that’s up to the NSW Health Department,” Cr Britten said.
The council meeting minutes from November 4 state “the capital assets required to add fluoride to drinking water are fully funded by the NSW State Government,” but Cr Britten said council will be responsible to pay for ongoing maintenance.
Cr Britten said the council will proceed with fluoridation after the completion of the information program in early 2016, based upon recommendations of the NSW Health Department.
“I don’t believe there will be great opposition. People generally accept things as they occur,” Cr Britten said.
So whether you’re captivated by a bright Colgate smile or concerned by a stained fluorosis grin, it’s probably worth joining the debate.
Cr Britten encouraged the public to read the November 4 “Water Fluoridation in NSW” report and meeting minutes via the BVSC website, and said the public will be notified via the BVSC website and press about the information program.