That’s the question before the Hastings Council, which Tuesday hosted a packed-chamber smack-down between American anti-fluoride campaigner, Paul Connett, and three representatives on behalf of the Hawke’s Bay DHB — Dr Robin Wyman of the NZ Fluoride Information Service, Michael Beasley from the National Poisons Centre, and Dr David Marshall, HBDHB’s principal dental officer.
Connett, a PhD chemist, has co-authored the bible of anti-fluoride campaigners, The Case Against Fluoride: How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and the Bad Science and Powerful Politics That Keep It There. His specialty is environmental chemistry and toxicology. His Canadian and British co-authors hold doctorates in medicine and biophysics, and biological sciences.
He directs the international Fluoride Action Network, and he’s studied the effects of fluoride in drinking water for fifteen years as his exclusive focus.
I suspect the DHB was hoping the anti-fluoride crusader would turn out to be long on rhetoric and short on empirical knowledge, with horns, two noses and no teeth. Indeed, when Angela Hair recently presented to the DHB Board and mentioned Connett, one Board member queried: But is he a dentist … does he treat people? As if practicing dentists are authorities on epidemiological studies.
Unfortunately for the DHB, as it turned out, Dr Connett would merit being billed as the fluoride establishment’s worst nightmare.
At his HDC presentation, it was evident that Connett is more directly and intimately familiar with the scientific research on fluoride efficacy and effects than anyone fronting for the Ministry of Health/DHB … to say nothing of your typical practicing dentist. He dissected (skewered?) the very studies cited by the DHB representatives as the core of their case for fluoridation … studies in some cases he had peer reviewed. In example after example, he displayed superior knowledge of the details of the studies, their strengths and weaknesses, and their implications.
In short, no flake! No whacko!
His case was straighforward (keeping in mind I can’t do justice in a blog post to his hour plus presentation) …
1. Drinking fluoride has either no, or at the very best, the tiniest impact on reducing dental caries (tooth decay). Connett argues that the studies most used to assert fluoride’s efficacy have major methodological flaws … indeed are much more suspect than studies on adverse health-effects that the fluoride establishment seeks to minimise or discredit.
2. The scientific evidence of adverse health effects is in fact credible, alarming … and mounting.
3. In the face of nil positive impact and worrisome adverse effects, if government wants to impose an involuntary medical treatment on the general population (unethical on its face, he argues), at the very least it should be morally responsible for conducting far more substantial research on the impacts of that treatment on its own people. On this he gives NZ a failing grade.*
In making his case, I’d have to say, IMHO, Connett carried the day. If I were a Hastings Councillor, my confidence in the authoritativeness of the NZ fluoride establishment would be shaken.
So, I give this Round in the match to the anti-fluoride brigade, led locally by Angela Hair, who instigated today’s ‘debate’ and recruited Dr Connett as champion.
What’s the next Round?
Mayor Yule asked what seemed to me a telling question at the end of the meeting. To paraphrase: If the NZ Ministry of Health is so certain that fluoride in drinking water reduces tooth decay and is safe, why does it leave any discretion at all in the matter to local authorities? Why doesn’t it or the DHB simply order it done? The DHB rep stumbled for an answer.
And so, today, the choice — Round Two — does lie with the Hastings Council. The Mayor indicated that a staff paper (HDC? DHB?) would be brought back to the Council to inform its actual debate and decision … in two months or so. With the exception of Councillor Henare O’Keefe (“I’m drawing a line in the sand here today … no fluoride!”), Councillors did not indicate positions and their questions didn’t reveal any particular leanings.
A potential Round Three could be a referendum on the issue. Either initiated by the Council itself, if it lacks the will to decide the matter as our representative body. Or, I suspect, initiated by the local anti-fluoride brigade if the Council retains the status quo.
*Speaking of grades, discussing why old paradigms persist, Connett, who has been speaking throughout New Zealand, described how the deans of the medical and dentistry schools at Otago refused to allow his presentation at those institutions.