Over the past few days I have been thinking a lot about the outrageous editorial that appeared in the Boston Globe on November 1 ( see below). I am outraged for several reasons:
1) It is unprofessional. This paper has gone to the public on a serious public health issue and made pronouncements which are not based on independent and objective research but simply on a cursory glance at the arguments.
2) It is influential. The Boston Globe has a good reputation locally and across the country.
3) It is unfair. The citizens of Worcester have done their very best to do their homework and present carefully considered arguments on this matter. They have gone door-to-door. They have distributed leaflets. They have organized a debate (which the “pros” boycotted) and they have aired their own program on Cable-access TV. However, the citizens are up against a) $400,000 and all the slick advertizing that can bring and b) state officials, such as Mary Foley the dental director at the Mass. Health department, who have added their stamp of approval to this measure. Thus the citizens are fighting an uphill battle on a playing field which is far from level. For the Boston Globe to weigh in at this point with its grossly ill-informed arguments adds salt to the wound of an already injured democracy.
4) It is a microcosm of what’s been happening across the US. As bad as it is, the Boston Globe editorial is not the worst we have seen. Up and down the country, usually just before referenda, newspaper editors trot out a “pro-fluoridation” editorial, which reads like a fax from Dr. Michael Easley’s propaganda machinery. Oh! and how they love to flaunt their “humane” feathers by advocating this measure in the name of “equity”. It is the American way to help poor children, they say.
5) It is dangerously inaccurate. Had they done their own homework, they would have found out that the “dental crisis” in our cities has little or nothing to do with a lack of fluoride ( most of them – including Boston- have been fluoridated since the 70’s), but a lot to do with the very poor dental care and prevention provided to families without insurance. This coupled with poor nutrition and poor habits produces serious decay, especially in the first teeth, called “Baby Bottle tooth decay”, which is not correctible with fluoridation. Thus, giving the poor fluoride doesn’t suddenly produce equity, it adds inequity to inequity. Poor kids are most likely to have poor nutrition which makes them more vulnerable to fluoride’s toxic effects (including dental fluorosis) and poor families are less able to avoid fluoride if they don’t want it. Unlike middle income families they will not be able to afford bottled water for drinking and cooking.
Here is how readers and FAN members can help. We may be too late to help the citizens of Worcester, but let us help educate the Boston Globe. Please write to them – from all parts of the US and all parts of the “Globe” – and let them know how unprofessional and unfair they are being and how you would expect a better example from a paper which goes beyond the city of Boston. Please share with them the “foundation” for those “unfounded fears”. And please send a copy to us so that we can share it with our readers. Hopefully, such an effort might encourage the Boston Globe to assign one of its staff to research the issue so that they don’t repeat this travesty again.
Below I have reprinted the Globe editorial and three responses to it. Please add yours. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org Please make sure you give your full name and address in your email and send a copy to us at email@example.com .
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
FLUORIDATION OF WATER is one of the great public health successes of the past 50 years. Voters in Worcester have an opportunity on Tuesday to bring this improvement in dental health to the residents of their community.
Fifty-seven percent of the people in Massachusetts have access to fluoridated water, but many are reluctant to treat their water supply, arguing that they ought to have the right to choose their own treatments. Worcester voters turned down fluoridation in 1996.
Yet this dental treatment is certified safe by public health authorities and is proven effective at reducing tooth decay, which can reach epidemic proportions unless preventive action is taken. Studies across the nation confirm the efficacy of fluoridated water.
Holyoke, for instance, began fluoridating its water in 1970. A study 11 years later found that cavities declined 27.5 percent among 14-year-old boys and 50 percent among 14-year-old girls. For 7-year-olds, who lived their whole lives in a fluoridated environment, the reduction was 84.1 percent. Children everywhere in Massachusetts ought to have the right to be protected against tooth decay.
Opponents contend that people seeking this treatment can brush their teeth with fluoridated paste, use a fluoride rinse or have their dentist paint their teeth with a fluoride solution. All true, but many people ignore simple dental hygiene, which probably explains why those teenage boys in Holyoke had a comparatively modest improvement in dental health. Many people who want to protect their teeth lack the money for regular check-ups.
Screenings at five Worcester schools this year and last found that 66 percent of second-graders had at least one cavity. These children need the benefits of fluoride now.
Despite the persistent efforts of dentists and public health officials, 167 communities with public water supplies still are without fluoride. A Yes vote in Worcester would send a strong message across the state that dental health is more important than unfounded fears.
This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 11/1/2001.
RESPONSES (not printed as of yet).
1) Letter from Dr. Alan Price.
Fluoridation–Blessed Be the Ignorant…
Both as a former professor at Wesleyan University and as a citizen concerned with public health, I am shocked and appalled at the lack of critical thinking and scholarship shown in your editorial, “Fluoridation Now” (November 1, 2001).
You assert: “…this dental treatment is certified safe by public health authorities and is proven effective at reducing tooth decay, which can reach epidemic proportions unless preventive action is taken….” As I read the scientific literature (obviously, you have not and are merely parroting authorities speaking ex cathedra) the effect of fluoride, if any, is topical, not systemic. Swallowing fluoride provides no benefit, but it does increase the risk of adverse health effects, documented in numerous studies, ignored by you and your authorities.
Furthermore, your imagined threat of an epidemic of tooth decay is belied by the fact that decay rates all across the world have dropped significantly irrespective of whether or not the local population swallows fluoridated water. Certainly, your statement must be a Halloween-induced scare tactic brought on by sugar overload.
And, finally, how can you advocate fluoridation when your own city, fluoridated since 1978, as reported in your 1999 article, has been experiencing a dental crisis with a decay rate four times the national average? For shame!
Alan D. Price, Ph.D.
5090 Likini St., #1204
Honolulu, HI 96818
2) Letter from Myron Coplan.
Boston Globe, Letters Editor
Thursday’s Globe editorial “FLUORIDATION NOW” recommends fluoridation for Worcester on the basis of selective old data. There is nothing remarkable about the 38% average decline in boys and girls tooth decay in Holyoke between 1970, when it started to fluoridate its water, and eleven years later in 1981.
Exactly the same magnitude of decline in tooth decay was found in non-fluoridated Norwood and Dedham in exactly the same period in a study by the Forsyth Dental Center (Glass, RL; “Secular changes in caries prevalence in two Massachusetts towns”; Caries Res. 1981;15(5):445-50).
These were not aberrations. The World Health Organization (WHO Oral Health Country/Area Profile, October 2000) reported a 48 % 11-year decline for the average of all US non-fluoridated communities. The same WHO study also reported the following 11-year declines in the 1970-1980s for the following non-fluoridated countries: Switzerland 42%, Germany 41%, Norway 40 %, Sweden 43%, Japan 33%, The Netherlands 44 %.
I had the pleasure of “discussing” data like these on the radio in Worcester last week with one of the staunchest promoters of fluoridation, Dr. Herschel Horowitz, former head of the National Institutes of Dental Research. He had no answer, but did admit that the best contemporary data (at least ten years out of date) shows no better than 6-10% difference in decay rates between children in fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas. The practical benefit of that turns out to be an average of about 1/2 of a tooth surface in 17-year old with all his/her teeth comprising over 120 tooth surfaces.
Myron J. Coplan
38 Silver Hill Natick 01760
3) Letter from Paul Connett.
Ignorance is blessed… by the Boston Globe! The Globe’s editorial (“Fluoridation Now” 11/1/01) tells us only one thing: just how little independent research the editors put into this matter before putting pen to paper.
The Globe cites a small study performed in Holyoke in 1981, which showed a large reduction in dental decay, ascribed to fluoridation, and ignored the largest survey ever conducted in the US which showed very little (Brunelle
and Carlos, 1990).
The editors have ignored the fact that the Globe carried the news a couple of years back that there is a dental crisis in Boston, and yet this city has been fluoridated since 1978!
What the Globe also fails to recognize is that this dental crisis is not due to lack of fluoride in the water but to the failure of providing decent dental care to families without dental insurance. Fluoridation will not solve this problem, as it simply gives the poor poison, not genuine preventive care.
Fluoridation also adds inequity to inequity, because it is precisely the poorer families who will be unable to avoid fluoride if they don’t want it and whose children will be more vulnerable to fluoride’s toxic effects because of poor nutrition.
The Globe dismisses the rational arguments of opponents as “unfounded fears”. However, these “fears” are well documented (see 50 Arguments Against Fluoridation at http://www.fluoridealert.org.) For a paper like the Boston Globe to dismiss these concerns without making any visible effort to research or address any one of them represents poor science, poor journalism and does a disservice to democracy.
Hopefully, the citizens of Worcester will prove more intelligent than this ill-informed editor.
Professor of Chemistry
St. Lawrence University
Canton NY 13617