OPINION: Inevitably, the fluoride debate will re-visit Wellington following Hamilton’s decision to stop adding the chemical to its water supply.
The Fluoride Action Network will wheel out the latest study showing that fluoridated water leads to IQ loss, bone density damage, hip fractures and other problems.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health will heave a heavy sigh and make generalisations about fluoride’s proven dental health benefits.
He may cite improvements in dental health since fluoride was added to water supplies from about 1960.
In fact, most of that improvement occurred after 1970, when fluoridated toothpaste appeared, but that probably won’t be mentioned.
Fluoride does not make its way into teeth from the digestive system, but straight through the enamel, while the fluoride is in the mouth.
A spokesman for the dental profession has been particularly vocal on the subject.
He won’t rebut the sometimes dodgy science of fluoride’s opponents, but instead resorts to name-calling.
“Crazy”, “nutters” and “flat- earthers” are recent examples.
“Flat-earthers” is an inadvertently ironic term.
Galileo was once ridiculed for suggesting that, contrary to the accepted science of the day, Earth might not actually be at the centre of the universe. Earth might, he suggested, orbit the sun, rather than the other way around.
His arguments, and his meticulous plots of planetary and stellar motion supporting them, were ignored and he was mocked.
Fluoridated water has undoubtedly made a positive difference to dental health.
On average, the improvement is very small, but where it counts it is very significant.
Because fluoride is absorbed directly through tooth surfaces, once it has been swallowed it is of no benefit, but can still do harm.
Treated water probably makes little difference to children who brush their teeth regularly with fluoridated toothpaste, but a major one to those who don’t.
That’s why it is added to water supplies.
One Wellington city dentist who treats adolescents said he did an average of only one filling for each patient during the five-year secondary school period, but his Porirua colleague expects to do about five.
How would Cannons Creek children get the fluoride they seem to need without also giving it to those in Karori?
Unfortunately, fluoridated water might make a difference to health as a whole over an entire lifetime.
Research has confirmed that fluoride may lead to increases in osteoporosis and hip fractures.
However, the dose found to do that is about four times as much as that usually added to drinking water.
From a dental point of view, fluoride is invaluable.
From a whole health-whole lifetime point of view, the jury is definitely out.
The science from both sides should be treated with healthy scepticism.
Listen to what is said, verify any cited statistics, and question the validity of any research.
Has it been peer-reviewed?
Was it published in a reputable professional or academic journal?
Don’t take any notice of name-callers – they have nothing useful to contribute to your knowledge or ability to decide what is best for you and your children.
And bear in mind those who challenge accepted science aren’t always wrong or mad.
Questioning is good.