Top NSW health and dental experts are boycotting an “open” forum organised by one of the most vocal anti-fluoride campaigners from the US, saying the anti-fluoride activists have as little scientific proof as the anti-vaccination campaigners.
A website promoting a February 21 forum with Professor Paul Connett, a US anti-fluoride activist, says he will hold an “open” panel in Australia – his first of this kind despite numerous previous visits – with pro-fluoridation advocates.
Professor Connett argues that fluoridation’s role in the decline of tooth decay is in doubt, even saying that where fluoridation of the water had been stopped tooth decay had decreased, something disputed by all public health associations.
His site also says representatives from the Australian Dental Association, Sydney University’s Dental Faculty and NSW Health have been invited to the meeting, which will be chaired by Sydney dentist Dr Ron Ehrlich, the founder of Sydney Holistic Dental Centre.
But the pro-fluoride advocates have either not received an invitation or have refused to attend. A spokesperson for NSW Health said “no one’s been invited and no one’s attending.”
Sydney University’s Professor Wendell Evans, the only pro-fluoride advocate who had received an invitation from Dr Ehrlich, said he would not attend because he didn’t want to lend credibility to the anti-fluoridation lobby.
He likened the movement to the anti-vaccination lobby. “The two go together,” he said. They both lacked any scientific proof.
Professor Evans, who has led research in Australia and New Zealand on fluoride, said people like Professor Connett confused and scared the public.
“They mislead, misinform, and scare the public with poorly done studies or arrogantly misrepresent results of studies conducted by reputable individuals, organisations, or institutions,” he said.
“The questions raised by fluoridation opponents are found, by panels of experts, to be without scientific foundation.”
After receiving the invitation, Professor Evans researched members of the panel who were represented as pro-fluoride, to check the balance of the panel, and found they were anything but pro-fluoride.
Anti-fluoridation panels or meetings he had attended often ended in uproar, and experts like him had been threatened physically and verbally, he said.
ADA chief executive Robert Boyd-Boland said the proposed panel was full of “anti-fluoridators, biased and misleading”.
The federal or the NSW branch of the ADA had not been invited, contrary to claims on Professor Connett’s fluoridation conference website, he said.
Sydney Holistic Dental Centre’s Dr Ehrlich would be presenting the pro-fluoride case, using information supplied by the ADA, the website said. He has said publicly there was conflicting evidence about fluoride’s safety.
The fluoridation of water was included in Centers for Disease Control as among the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Professor Evans said if there were any suspicions that fluoridation was harmful, neither the World Health Organisation, nor medical associations, nor other institutions devoted to population health would endorse the practice, but overwhelmingly they did so and without reservation.
He said a US study showed that the anti-fluoride activists were “gaining a lot of momentum”. A recent update by a leading oral health expert found that despite the research showing the benefits of fluoridation of water in preventing tooth decay, it was still being challenged on a daily basis across the United States.
US expert Dr Myron Allukian said a vocal minority was so adept at confusing and scaring the public that they dominated any internet search on the topic now. For example, a study of internet and social media showed that leading anti-fluoridation websites had as much as 60 times the traffic as the top pro-fluoridation websites.
All of the top 50 Facebook groups found using the search terms “fluoride” and anti-fluoridation were anti-fluoridation, he said.
Professor Paul Connett, who argues that fluoridation’s role in the decline of tooth decay is in doubt. Photo: Jemma Wallace JDW