As a dentist, if I set aside my ethics and put on my cynical hat, I’d love to see fluoridation banned. My waiting room would, over time, fill up with patients needing their cavities filled – wonderful, no? Well, thankfully, my profession doesn’t cast aside its ethics when it comes to public policy, and has come out firmly in favour of maintaining fluoride in public water at a level of one part per million. So it always amuses me when opponents of fluoridation throw stones at us dentists for advocating something so obviously against our (selfish) interests.
The link between fluoride and the incidence of tooth decay was first suspected in the 1940s in America, where researchers noticed markedly lower levels of decay in communities whose water supply was rich in fluoride. They set up a controlled experiment to test the relationship, but had to abandon it when the early results were so overwhelmingly positive that it was deemed unethical to continue to deprive the control group of the protection of artificial fluoridation.
An NHMRC review found unmistakeable evidence among children and teenagers associating reduced incidence of decay with optimal levels of fluoride in drinking water.
A common misunderstanding promoted by contrarians is that fluoride in drinking water is somehow unnatural. Fluorine is a highly reactive gas that occurs in nature in the form of soluble salts – calcium fluoride is a good example. In most of the world, and many parts of Australia, dissolved, naturally-occurring fluoride ions exist in the water supply in quantities similar to those we advocate. Australia’s extreme antiquity, however, means that many areas do not enjoy naturally-occurring fluoride in optimal quantities.
Of course, it can’t be denied that fluorides can be toxic, in sufficient quantity. But the same can be said of a host of substances upon which we rely for our health. Just to be clear, no-body that I’m aware of is advocating raising fluoride concentrations to levels higher than can be found in many healthy communities. So if, for instance, you live in Portland and Port Fairy in Victoria, and you still believe fluoride is bad for you, you’d better think of moving!
If you Google the topic, you’ll find many arguments against fluoridation – I’ve only addressed a couple here, but I believe I’ve looked at the lot, and I remain convinced that the benefits of fluoridation far outweigh its possible ill-effects.