The effectiveness and safety of fluoridated water will be debated until
the taps run dry, but Salt Lake County health officials have ensured that the stuff will never be associated with a truth serum.
To sell voters on fluoridation last year, they promised it would be
cheap and easy to implement. Now they have pushed the start date back to late 2003, which is a pretty good indication that they had precious little information on which to base their promises. It should make voters wonder what else the officials don’t know about fluoridation.
Acting Salt Lake Valley Health Director Royal DeLegge provided a pretty
good indication of how much he has thought this whole thing through last week when he explained the reason for the delay. He said that unless all water systems are fluoridated at the same time, dentists won’t know how much people are getting and might overtreat their patients.
But dentists will never again have any idea how much fluoride residents are getting once it’s in the water supply, since the amount they ingest will depend in great measure upon the quantity of water they consume. An active boy who drinks twice as much as his sedentary brother will get twice as much fluoride.
The fluoridation lobby did a wonderful job last year of using
“intellectual” intimidation to overwhelm such common-sense concerns. We have more sheepskin than a Wyoming rancher, proponents informed Utahns, so if none of this makes sense it is only because you are too dense to understand it.
But Europe’s dentists, doctors and public health officials understand
just fine, thank you, and most of their countries discontinued fluoridation in the 1970s due to concerns about effectiveness, safety, ethics and impact on the environment. This has not led to an increase in cavities, however. In fact, World Health Organization statistics show that 12-year-olds in Britain, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark and Sweden — none of which fluoridates its water — have fewer decayed, missing or filled teeth (DMFTs) than Americans. So do kids in China, Egypt, Libya and Iraq, which also don’t fluoridate their water.
The U.S. fluoridation lobby points to the downward trend of tooth decay in America as “proof” that fluoridation works, but decay rates have been dropping even faster in non-fluoridated countries. While DMFTs were falling from 2.6 to 1.4 among U.S. 12-year-olds, Britain’s fell from 3.1 to 1.1, Cuba’s dropped from 6 to 1.4, and the Netherlands’ dropped from 1.7 to 0.9.
The kids with the world’s best teeth tend to live in Africa, where they
not only lack money for fluoridation but — what could be more significant — sugar. The 12-year-olds in Rwanda, whose per-capita sugar consumption is about 120 times less than America’s, have about one-fifth the DMFTs of their U.S. counterparts.
Could Utahns’ prodigious sugar consumption have anything to do with
their modestly higher cavity rate? Probably, but don’t expect the
fluoridation lobby to talk about it. Those folks win their battles keeping
information that does not support their position out of the public debate.