I don’t have the credentials to make a definitive scientific case for or against water fluoridation based on the highly contested body of evidence available. There are dentists on both sides of the divide. There are academic researchers on both sides. Public health officials vary from wildly enthusiastic about water fluoridation (eg New Zealand, parts of the US) to completely opposed (eg Sweden, in fact excepting the UK, most of Europe). What I do find convincing is the ethical argument, as laid out by numerous writers like Mark Diesendorf, Ph.D (see the original in .PDF form) which says that mass medication without consent is a violation of basic medical ethics. To quote the UK All Party Parliamentary Group Against Fluoridation:

“The right to refuse treatment is accepted as fundamental in a free society, and has been enshrined in human rights legislation, the Patient’s Charter and elsewhere. There is thus a moral imperative on a Government (whether or not it sees itself as legally bound) which can possibly be lifted only in cases of national emergency, and/or highly infectious and/or life-threatening epidemics.”

Here in Aotearoa, a series of multi-day hearings have been held by a number of local government bodies, including New Plymouth District Council and Hamilton City Council, to investigate the safety and efficacy of water fluoridation. In each case the result has been a decision to end the practice, despite the fact that public health officials and academics at the country’s main Dental School in Otago consider the science to be settled in favour of it. With local body elections looming, the Minister of Health is determined to play King Kanute, and turn back the anti-fluoridation tide. He is quoted by TVNZ news as saying:

“There are a number of referenda that are going to happen around the country over the run-up to the local body election period,” Mr Ryall said.

“One of the things I’ve done is I’ve asked the authorities to look at how they can better convey both the health benefits and the social benefits of fluoridation in such a way that people can appreciate those benefits and be aware of them.”

What really bothers me here in the patronising attitude towards the public. In the eyes of technocrats like Ryall we remain the “great unwashed”, incapable of understanding logical arguments or weighing the available evidence for ourselves. In other words, presented with both sides of the argument in a thorough public hearing, people are coming to the *wrong* conclusions. Public servants are now tasked with the PR job of massaging the way the information is presented until we start coming to the *right* conclusions again. If I’m correct in my suspicion that it is the ethical argument that is winning people over, I doubt they can succeed, but it’s truly sad to think about how many thousands of public health dollars are being wasted in the process of trying.

Drilling for Truth has the beginnings of a research page on Fluoride, although much more work needs to be done.

Filed July 7th, 2013 under Uncategorized