Dr Andrew Rynne wants the State to answer his case. The GP claims that fluoridation of public water supplies — a measure introduced 40 years ago to halt dental decay — negates his personal rights and choices.
Dr Rynne, from Clane, Co Kildare, is pursuing a High Court action against the Government and is awaiting a defence response from his regional health board. If successful in his action, Dr Rynne could spark a class action, a wave of similar cases against the Government that might leave army deafness claims in the shade. If unsuccessful, his case will at least reignite public awareness of the contentious issue of fluoridation. He also awaits the implementation of recommendations made in the 2002 Forum on Fluoridation report, none of which have yet been instigated.
Navan-based dentist Don McAuley took a different form of action against fluoridation. Four years ago, after setting up his own practice, he spoke to the Irish Independent about how he had received threats and lost jobs as a result of opposing water fluoridation in this country. He now heads up Irish Dentists Opposing Fluoridation, a group representing about 3% of Irish dentists.
For every Andrew Rynne or Don McAuley opposing water fluoridation, there are an equal number of proponents — Dr Seamus O’Hickey, former chief dental officer with the Department of Health and now lecturing in public dental health, and Professor John Clarkson from the Dublin Dental Hospital, to name just two. Both are involved in the Expert Body on Water Fluoridation in Ireland, set up following the report of the Forum on Fluoridation and already lashed by critics as a `whitewash’. In addition, bodies such as the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland do not oppose fluoridation.
Now the publication of a new book, The Fluoride Deception, seems certain to reopen the battle lines. It argues that water fluoridation is a con-job, a 1950s measure peddled by a US nanny state as harmless and beneficial, a means of “mass medication by thirst” which treats a non-water-borne condition (dental decay) with water and is more harmful and less effective than governments will ever let on.
The most obvious side-effect of fluoridation is dental fluorosis, which damages tooth enamel and can range from mild to severe. However, fluoridation has also been linked to far more serious conditions — everything from irritable bowel syndrome and Attention Deficit Disorder to skeletal fluorosis, congenital defects, cancer and neurological disorders. While none of these links has yet been scientifically proven, some experts say the risk is too great to continue with fluoridation.
A toxic by-product of phosphate fertilisers, fluoride contains trace elements of lead, mercury and arsenic and is used in rat poison and nerve gas. A cumulative toxin, it’s said to head straight for our hard tissues — teeth and bones — and is linked to hip fractures and brittle bones. Given the right dose, it can be fatal, and is said to have contributed to the deaths of American aluminium factory workers exposed to high levels.
Critical experts argue that fluoride isn’t a nutrient, that no illness or disease is linked to fluoride deficiency and any dental benefits work by applying it to the teeth rather than swallowing it. Many other fluoride products are sold only on prescription yet, the critics argue, you have no control over the presence or dosage of fluoride in your water supply.
“One of the problems is that you haven’t a clue how much fluoride is going into your water,” says Ronnie Russell, professor of environmental studies at Trinity College. “I don’t trust the authorities enough to administer a consistent dose of sufficient purity to be satisfied. People have to resort to using water filters as the only means of exercising choice and safety. Also, we now get fluoride from many sources that didn’t exist in the 1960s.”
Water first became fluoridated in Ireland in the mid-1960s on the wave of a High Court case to determine its suitability as a public health measure. Forty years later proponents say it’s still of benefit to public health, a necessity in the face of growing obesity and unhealthy snacking habits that threaten dental health. Critics say it’s damaging to our health, unethical, undemocratic, unsafe and ineffective, a dated public health mistake which has somehow outlived asbestos, leaded petrol and the advent of fluoride toothpaste.
About 73% of Irish water is fluoridated, compared to 10% in the UK, 60% in America and 3% in Spain. An estimated 98% of European countries do not fluoridate their water and in the US some individual states are revoking it. In Basel, Switzerland, the process has been dropped while in France salt fluoridation and fluoridation applications by dentists are more common.
In Ireland we continue to fluoridate water supplies despite the fact that we also get it from toothpaste, mouth washes, processed foods and beverages, pesticide residues and air pollution. Fluoride fans say it’s a good way of protecting poorer communities from dental decay; critics say less nourished people from disadvantaged communities are more sensitive to fluoride poisoning because of other dietary deficiencies.
For every argument in favour of fluoridation, there is an argument against. The Fluoride Deception points to the suppression of medical information, the sacking of experts who found damaging evidence of potentially nasty side-effects that governments didn’t want to hear and a powerful political lobby that grasped fluoridation as a cheap means of mass medication to avoid adequate dental cover and dietary education. The contentiousness of the issue hit home in the UK when the British government took moves to indemnify water companies from civil or criminal cases taken by members of the public.
The jury is also out on fluorosis rates and the level of dental decay in fluoridated areas as opposed to non-fluoridated areas. Mr McAuley says 50pc of the children and teenagers he sees have some form of fluorosis, the most obvious sign of fluoride poisoning.
Professor John Clarkson, a proponent of fluoridation, argues that the increase in fluorosis cases is small and no proof has been found linking fluoride to any serious disease.
What should worry us most in Ireland is the fact that two years after the publication of the Forum on Fluoridation report, not one of its recommendations has been implemented, a fact recently raised in the Dail with Health Minister Micheal Martin by John Gormley of the Green Party. While an Expert Body has been established with Dr Seamus O’Hickey as chairman, it has only had one meeting so far.
Along with quality assurance measures and plant monitoring, the Forum report recommended a reduction from the current level of 0.8 to 1.0 part per million to 0.6 to 0.8 part per million, with a target level of 0.7ppm. The Forum recommended this decrease on the evidence of increased levels of dental fluorosis and the fact that we’re getting fluoride from many other sources on a daily basis. Opponents such as Voice, the voice of Irish concern for the environment, rubbished the forum report, as did Dr Rynne.
“The Government knows that if it withdraws fluoridation suddenly, it could face a rash of compensation cases. Instead, it will turn the levels down slowly over the years. But the Forum’s recommended decrease is the stuff of scientific nonsense, which reduces the dose to a level that is known to be of no significant benefit,” says Dr Rynne.
According to Mr McAuley, 50 scientific reasons why fluoridation should not be used were presented to the Forum by Professor Paul Connett but none of these reasons has been examined or responded to. “Water fluoridation is a political issue and the expert body is simply a delaying tactic,” he says. “After 40 years of this process, we’re seeing increased levels of fluorosis — who knows what effects we’ll be seeing in another 20 years?”
The Fluoride Deception by Christopher Bryson is published in the US by Seven Stories