It’s understandable that those who want to end the fluoridation of Saskatoon’s drinking water are trying to distance themselves from a poster attacking the city’s utilities manager.
The fluoridation of Saskatoon’s water began well before Jeff Jorgenson took on his position. Saskatoon’s leaders have long accepted the wisdom of policy experts who consider this practice to be among the most beneficial of the many publichealth measures that a community can take.
And good on them for having that courage.
Although there is a significant and apparently growing movement to end the practice, it is not based on science or evidence but depends on fear, misrepresentation and general ignorance.
When Mr. Jorgenson was asked by council about the city’s policy, he responded responsibly and truthfully – Saskatoon’s water is considered among the best in North America and the practice of fluoridation is considered by those who know what they are talking about, health and dental experts, to be beneficial, particularly for children and the poor.
The movement to add fluoride to drinking water began in earnest in the postwar era and, according to the U.S. Centre for Disease Control, the results have been remarkable. For relatively little cost communities in North America were able to dramatically improve the oral health of their citizens. And the benefits are far greater than better-looking teeth. Poor oral health has been associated with a plethora of other health problems, including heart disease.
The alternative to treating drinking water – a substance that is already more closely monitored and highly controlled than almost any other – is to require individuals to find ways to treat themselves. This is much less of a challenge for the well-heeled than for people with limited incomes and especially for children who come from poor families.
There is no question that overdoing a good thing, when it comes to fluoride, can have detrimental effects, and opponents of the public health measure point to enamel fluorosis as a possible outcome for those who might consume fluoride in their water. But enamel fluorosis is extremely rare in those areas where water is treated and requires a contamination level many times the recommended maximum dosage.
Having failed at this argument, the opponents are now questioning the morality of pushing a mass medication on an unsuspecting and often oblivious population. They have a point, but as in all ethical debates one must measure the alternatives – and in this case the alternative is to ignore the health needs of a vulnerable population when those who don’t trust the science can simply get a filter to take the fluoride out.
But there may be another reason opponents of fluoridation want to distance themselves from the science of this debate. According to researchers from the Santa Barbara campus of the University of California, when people are primed with science-related thoughts, they are more likely to adhere to moral norms and become more altruistic.
This sounds exactly like a population that would choose to treat water so it is safe and provides the maximum health benefits, particularly to the most vulnerable.
The editorials that appear in this space represent the opinion of The StarPhoenix. They are unsigned because they do not necessarily represent the personal views of the writers. The positions taken in the editorials are arrived at through discussion among the members of the newspaper’s editorial board, which operates independently from the news departments of the paper.