Way back in September 2002, the then Health Minister Micheál Martin promised the people that there would be an expert body established to oversee the recommendations of the Forum on Fluoridation. This group was to be called the Irish Expert Body on Fluoridation and Health. For the purposes of brevity I will refer to this group here as IEBFH. The principal recommendation of the Forum was a reduction in the fluoridation of our drinking water supply from the present level of 0.8 to 1.0 parts per million down to the lower level of 0.6 to 0.8 parts per million. This reduction was recommended because of the increasing levels of dental fluorosis that’s been observed lately. Dental fluorosis is an agreed sign of fluoride overdosing.
Two years later, in August of this year, IEBFH, a group of some 23 individuals, was at last established. Why it should have taken almost two years to bring 23 people together is a mystery but it must say a lot for the priority that our last Minister of Health attached to the importance of overdosing the population with fluoride. Of the 19 men and four women that make up this expert body, only one of them, Dr Brian O’Herlihy is a medical doctor. Medical doctors will know, or should know that the forceful medication of an individual is unethical. The rest are dentists, environment experts, engineers, dieticians, consumer affairs people, food safety experts, health board administrators and so on. For the most part, their claim to have any kind of expertise in the area of water fluoridation is not immediately obvious. No fewer than eight individuals on IEBFH have already served on the Forum. Or in other words, observers might claim they are there overseeing the implementation of their own recommendations and so scuttling any claim to impartiality that they may at one time claimed to have had. This seems to be essentially a pro-fluoridation body of so-called experts.
Now we have a brand new Health Minister, whom we wish well, but we still have not heard a dickey from IEBFH. The last I heard about them was in this paper last August where the constitution of the body of experts was outlined. In that piece we were also told that this body would meet again in September. But September and October and November have now all come and gone and there have been no reported announcements or sightings of the experts. In the meantime, the population of Ireland is being officially overdosed by fluoride and nobody seems to give a damn about rising dental fluorosis levels. Of course the IEBFH have a difficult task – they have to recommend and oversee a practise that, according to the Forum “is of no significant benefit”, but that as they say is their problem.
In a letter to this paper (IMN, 27/9/04) dental surgeon Dr Joe Mullen, himself a former member from the forum who is now on the body of experts, accuses me of being quite wrong and even confused. He believes I fail to distinguish between scientific data available in the 1960s and now, when I claim that a target dose of 0.7 parts per million is on the record as being “of no significant benefit”. My source of information has got nothing whatsoever to do with data available or not available in the 1960s. My information comes from no less an impeccable source than the Forum’s very own website under Some Practical Questions point six. This makes reference to recent studies, not stuff from the 1960s. Of course there may be some kind of pious hope that a combination of an unspecified dose of fluoridated toothpaste and a sub-therapeutic dose of fluoridated drinking water will somehow miraculously pan out to be the optimum dose of fluoride. If this actually happens, it will have far more to do with serendipity and happenstance than it will to do with science. But then of course this kind of woolly thinking is the very hallmark of anything to do with the whole fluoridation debacle.
The expert body about to make an appearance down in the Dental Hospital reminds me of one of those very bad amateur dramas that we used to be forced to go and see in the Old Hall in Prosperous in the 1960s. The lighting was always very poor and the thing never got started on time. You were expected to just sit there looking up at this dirty old curtain and hope for the best. Behind the curtain you would hear all sorts of kafuffles and goings on as the stage hands moved props around, setting up for the first scene. That’s what seems to be happening now as this body of quasi experts get ready to take centre stage. There is movement at one corner of the curtain. Something is about to happen. The ladies are looking at the backs of their legs making certain that their stocking seams are straight and that their slips are not showing. The gentlemen are waxing their moustaches. The audience is dizzy with anticipation and a symbol is struck. A pantomime called The Expert Body is about to start. A great hush has fallen over the crowd.