Since moving to my adopted city of Kitchener, Ontario last month, I’ve come to love the park lands, downtown market, and rich German culture. I love this city a great deal, but I’ve not had a lot of time to learn the political culture, and what level of pseudo-science is prevalent around here. So I was a bit disappointed to learn that the decades old invented controversy of water fluoridation is alive and well, and will be the subject of an Oct 25 referendum asking, “Should the Region of Waterloo fluoridate your municipal water?”
As always when dealing with pseudo science, the arguments are old, tiresome, and thin. I’ll be addressing the most common ones in this article to hopefully restore a modicum of sanity to this banal issue. Can we please take a moment and truly analyze some these arguments we’re hearing?
FLUORIDATED WATER WILL HURT YOU!
No, it won’t. This has been one of the most well studied public health measures in the modern era, and the evidence of safety is well documented, both in the short and long-term.
The University of Toronto published this piece titled, The long-term effects of water fluoridation on the human skeleton, just one of several hundred studies that demonstrate long-term safety. What I like about this paper is that the authors expected to find an effect where, “municipalities with and without fluoridated water would reveal a relationship between fluoride content and structural or mechanical properties of bone”. However, honest scientific rigour revealed that there appeared to be no causal link, and the variables are too numerous to be able to conclusively attribute to water fluoridation. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of studies that show how safe water fluoridation is.
FLUORIDE IN THE WATER DOESN’T HELP!
Yes it does. Australian researchers published a recent study comparing municipal water supplies with and without fluoride. Accounting for age, geographical location, socioeconomic status (SES), the researchers found that incidence of caries (tooth decay) “was 28.7% and 31.6% higher, respectively, in low-fluoride areas compared with optimally fluoridated areas.” As with the safety issue, there are studies aplenty in support of fluoridation efficacy.
IT’S TOO EXPENSIVE!
The cost of fluoridating the water equals to roughly $0.94 per person annually (1, 2). Compare that to the cost of a typical dentist visit, which can range from $40 for a filling, $200 for an extraction (3) to $1200 for a root canal (4). Remember, the incidence of tooth decay drops by around 30% because of fluoridated water.
In addition, we know about countless other far more serious health issues directly related to tooth decay, such as heart disease, oral cancer, and diabetes. Consider the cost that these diseases will incur on the health care system and affected families. Fluoride in the water will not drastically cut back incidences of these diseases, but it will reduce them a little. For $0.94 per person/year, that seems worth it to me.
IT INFRINGES ON MY RIGHTS!
The *ahem* ‘argument‘ goes like this: “Medicine should be a free choice that people undertake! Forcing a medicinal treatment onto the masses is unethical”
Presumably, these same people who make this thin argument are also against vaccinations or jumping in a chlorinated swimming pool. I wonder if they’re also against the added iodine in our salt, the added niacin in our bread, the added calcium in our milk and fruit juice, or any other fortified foodstuffs that are ubiquitous in our financially privileged country, but rare in most of the world.
Opponents of water fluoridation will move their goalpost a little further and say, “Why make everyone ingest the fluoride, when a trip to the dentist is much more effective anyway!”
Yes it is, and presumably these same people making the claim can also get their water from non-municipal sources just as easy. Water fluoridation is not intended to replace proper dental care (brushing, flossing, visits to the dentist), but to supplement it, and no health care professional or government official is suggesting that drinking fluoridated water is sufficient dental care.
If you’d like some actual information, and not wild speculations of conspiracy theories, mind control, and an over powerful government acting outside its bounds, Health Canada has some helpful information about the facts of water fluoridation, as does the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. If you somehow are under the delusion that Health Canada and the CDC are under the thumb of “Big Dentist”, you can go straight to the source yourself, and do a search on PubMed, to look at the studies themselves. It takes very little time, and the information is very clear.
Even if the motion gets defeated in the referendum, this issue will resurface in just a few years, and the arguments will be exactly the same. Opponents of fluoridation will have learned nothing, and the only people that they will have helped would be….well, nobody. I can’t think of anyone who would directly or indirectly benefit from fluoride being removed from our water.
In anticipation of what will doubtless be many critics of me and this post, you’re wrong. I’m really just a shill for Big Periodic Table of Elements.
**UPDATE** Oct 26, 11:23 am EST**
The referendum answered “no” to the question, “Should the Region of Waterloo fluoridate your municipal water?” with a slim majority of 50.3%. I’m unaware if the 30,000+ votes cast was enough to meet quorum (i.e.: did enough people vote for it to matter?) or if the majority was an acceptable majority determined beforehand (i.e.: what majority did the council agree was necessary to implement the motion), but I can tell you a few things about these sorts of referendums:
1) Usually, municipal elections have terribly low voter turnout, so I’m doubting they made quorum.
2) Even if they did, 50.3% is such a slim majority, I find it difficult to accept (but not impossible) that any councilor will act on the referendum results, because…
3) Referendums are not binding. They are simply ways for the government to ask the people their opinion on a certain issue, and the government is under no obligation at all to respond to the referendum results. They are different from elections, which are legally and constitutionally binding declarations from the population.
I would like to add one little tidbit I learned last night about three cities in this region:
Kitchener does not fluoridate their water.
Cambridge does not fluoridate, but has a little bit of naturally occurring fluoride already in the water supply.
Waterloo does fluoridate.
The rates of cavities for school children in the three cities are:
- Kitchener – 44%
- Cambridge – 33%
- Waterloo – 32 %
If that isn’t a plain statistic that can be communicated to the public, I’m not sure I can ever notice one.