Fluoridation has been drawing cranks out of the woodwork for decades. In Cold War days, right-wingers raged against the growing practice of putting fluoride in the drinking water to prevent tooth decay. Their fervour was lampooned in the 1964 Stanley Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove, in which rogue general Jack Ripper sends his bombers to nuke the Soviet Union.
“Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous Communist plot we have ever had to face,” he rants to his subordinate, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake. “It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.”
Today’s anti-fluoridationists no longer claim a Communist plot, but their zeal burns just as bright. As a result of their lobbying, two Canadians cities, Waterloo and Calgary, have recently decided to take fluoride out of their tap water, ignoring a mass of expert opinion that says it is perfectly safe. Cape Breton, N.S., and Lethbridge, Alta., are considering it. Now the anti-fluoride zealots want to ban it in Toronto.
At the public health board on Monday, a parade of them showed up to demand that the city “detoxify our water.” One of them said fluoride was a threat to pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants. Another said that “industrial-waste fluoridation” was releasing arsenic, lead, mercury and radionuclides into the water supply. Another suggested it could damage bones and the thyroid gland. Yet another called fluoridation “obsolete, ineffective, unsafe, unethical, un-ecological and wasteful.”
Absolute bunk, the lot of it. A mountain of studies have failed to find any health threat from fluoridated water. An equal mass of studies have found that it helps prevent cavities in children.
Arlene King, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, and David McKeown, her Toronto counterpart, both showed up to testify to the safety and usefulness of fluoridation. So did a platoon of dental authorities. One of them, Paul Andrews of the University of Toronto, called fluoridation “categorically safe.”
The Canadian Dental Association states that “50 years of extensive research throughout the world has consistently demonstrated the safety and effectiveness” of fluoride. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control called fluoridation “one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”
Before Toronto began fluoridating in 1963, children got an average of five to seven cavities. Today, partly because of fluoridation (and partly because of better dental care), they get an average of one to two. After Dryden, Ont., discontinued fluoridation in 2001, the level of cavities in five-year-olds grew by 26 per cent.
Fluoridation is a health equalizer, because it helps people who cannot afford first-class dental care. It is cheap in the bargain, costing about 77 cents per person per year in Toronto but saving many millions in dental care.
So why does it inspire such fear? One reason is distrust of government. Many of the original anti-fluoride crowd were the Tea Party types of their era who said the state had no right to adulterate their water or food. Even today, the loopiest anti-fluoridationists call it “mass medication.”
Married to that suspicion of government is a morbid obsession with the contaminants that are supposed to riddle our bodies these days – PCBs from the groundwater, bisphenol A from plastic water bottles, you name it. Never mind that they show up in almost undetectable parts per billion. “Dilution is no defence,” as one anti-fluoride campaigner said on Monday.
To their credit, the city’s public health committee was not swayed by drivel like that. After listening respectfully to an afternoon’s worth of deputations on the issue, they decided to back Dr. McKeown and leave fluoride in our tap water for now. Gen. Ripper would not be pleased. Torontonians should be.