Fluoride Action Network

Fluoride might be great, but the case isn’t closed

Source: Calgary Herald | April 7th, 2009 | By Nigel Hannaford
Location: Canada, Alberta

Health experts roll their eyes, that anybody–such as city aldermen–could possibly want to reopen the old debate about putting fluoride in the drinking water. To mainstream health scientists, people who want to take it out probably also think 9/11 was an inside job. Case closed: It’s that clear to them.

A more nuanced and congenial exposition from the pro-fluoride direction was published Monday in the Herald, by two University of Calgary medical specialists– Dr. Tom Noseworthy and Dr. Tom Feasby. They conceded the fluoride-banners at least had a point, namely that there was a tension between the public good and individual rights: “Understandably, some individuals oppose the imposition of any measure upon themselves without their consent. In a world of absolute self-determination they are, of course, right.”

Nevertheless, they felt that, on balance, the benefit of a population-level intervention, principally to the poor and those too feckless to brush their teeth daily, was worth the money.

Fair enough. At least, we’re now able to talk to, not past, each other.

And certainly if one was to object to fluoridation, it would not be on the grounds of price. Servicing this city of a million costs about $600,000 a year. Even with planned multimillion dollar upgrades to the delivery machinery, the yearly cost per citizen is less than a tube of Colgate.

Full disclosure: I personally don’t lie awake at night worrying. Years of childhood sugar abuse put me in the hands of the dental profession before I left school, and there I have remained since. Apparently, my crowns are all in good shape. Thing is, given my mother’s relentless generosity with candy, perpetually available as reward, consolation or energy-giver to ease her little struggler over the homework hump, I daresay I should have no fewer now had Merrie England’s tap water then been as liberally laced with fluoride as Calgary’s is today.

Upon the larger issue, that fluoridation can actually be harmful, there is more room for a discussion, and it should be had.

After all, it has been 11 years since Calgary signed up for fluoride, and new information has been published suggesting it is not without its own side-effects, and can actually harm infants and people with kidney disease, for example.

Typically, the mainstream consensus treats such assertions as unproven and alarmist. So they may be.

More likely, there is some truth to them, but Noseworthy and Feasby will prevail, that “the evidence in support of public water fluoridation far outweighs the evidence against.”

But there’s nothing wrong with talking about it, especially when the medical mainstream seems so anxious not to.

For, this whole question is an example of how social change is done in Canada, whether it’s about VLTs, smoking or anything else that can be put to a plebiscite: anybody who doesn’t understand why it upsets people just doesn’t respect those who disagree with them. And by my observation of Theodor Adorno’s theory of the authoritarian personality, that’s about one-third of the population.

First, activists demand change. They finally get their issue onto the ballot. It is rejected. However, the status quo side that has just won the vote does not respond with a self-satisfied, “There, that’s settled forever.” Life just goes on.

Next, the activists demand another plebiscite. Same thing happens.

And so it goes on until a weary public gives in. The struggle to put fluoride in Calgary’s water–or the nagging-without-end, according to your perspective –went through six of these cycles over 40 years before the fluoridators managed to get their not-quite-a-landslide 55 per cent.

But once they had won, life did not just go on any more. Victory was declared, the moral high ground assumed by the victors and anybody who questioned fluoride was treated as a flat-earther or something like a child-abuser.

Well, that’s not good enough. That’s the velvet dystopia of B. F. Skinner, the philosopher whose book Walden Two describes his dream of social control by manipulating human behaviour and environment. Some of us actually prefer thinking for ourselves, a consideration Noseworthy and Feasby discard just a little too casually.

Most parents are OK, so if cost isn’t the best way to attack fluoride, neither is assuming parents won’t adequately supervise the nightly teeth-cleaning the best way to defend it. We trust parents to put shoes on their children’s feet, food in their bellies and clothes on their back. No doubt they can administer fluoride as necessary, too, (though they’d probably do more good cutting back on pop and candy.)

Policy is always open to review. Fluoride is no exception.

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