With 800 million people worldwide benefiting from fluorides, it’s hard to believe that anyone, especially city councillor Pat Wallace, still has doubts. It’s important for civic leaders to have informed opinions.
Councillors shouldn’t rely on a few dozen studies to make up their minds about the effects of water fluoridation. The University of York looked at the big-picture. They examined 214 studies done in thirty countries, spanning a period of fifty years. Here’s what they found.
1. Water fluoridation works. Fluoridation reduces the number of cavities and missing teeth in children, and increases the proportion of children with no tooth decay at all.
2. Fluorides in high concentrations in water, especially when combined with other fluoride sources can cause fluorosis, a discolouration of teeth. Fluorosis ranges from a tiny white flecks in mild cases to brown spots where fluoride ingestion is high. Fluorosis is a cosmetic problem, not a health problem.
3. Fluoridation reduces health inequalities. This simple, inexpensive remedy reduces the dental health gap between affluent families and children living in poverty.
4. There is no association between fluoridation and hip fractures or any other bone fractures.
5. There is no link between water fluoridation and overall cancer incidence and mortality. This was also true for bone cancers. You can read the report from the University of York, called “Fluoridation of Drinking Water: a Systematic Review of its Efficacy and Safety” at www.york.ac.uk/inst/crd/fluorid.htm. But if you don’t have time to read the report, see what the experts have to say.
And go to the best. The Canadian Dental Association supports fluoridation of municipal water supplies as “a safe, economical and effective means of preventing dental caries in all age groups.” It adds that “fluoride levels in community water supplies should be monitored” to ensure consistent concentrations. Excessive levels of water fluoridation, plus ingestion other sources, can cause fluorosis.
The World Health Organization favours water fluoridation as a means of reducing dental cavities. Fluoride concentrations should be approximately 1 part per million (ppm) to be effective. But, in some countries that have no central water distribution system, fluoridated salt is recommended (much in the way that iodized salt is here). The U.S. Centres for Disease Control recently named fluoridation of drinking water as one of the 10 most successful public health measures in this century.
Some opponents of fluoridation say that is that we shouldn’t be forced to take fluorides if we don’t want them. But even if our water weren’t fluoridated, we would still get natural fluorides from our water. All the water in the world is naturally fluoridated. Surface water has less and ground water has more. In Kamloops, the concentration is only about one-half that required to be effective.
The ubiquitous nature of fluorides can create problems when studying its effect on decay reduction. Partial exposure to fluorides can have partial benefits. Also, families who move between fluoridated and nonfluoridated communities carry the benefits, or lack of benefits, with them.
Dr. Christopher Clark, from the faculty of Dentistry at UBC, discovered flaws in earlier studies which were attempting to find the effects of tooth sealants in decay reduction. Researchers had failed to take into account the length of time that subjects had lived in the area under study.
Dr. Clark found that life-long exposure to fluorides had the most dramatic effect. He studied decay reduction in Kelowna were water is fluoridated (1.2ppm) compared with Vernon where no fluorides were added (0.1 ppm). He found that long-time Kelowna users had 35% fewer cavities than in Vernon.
On a personal level, I have seen the benefits of water fluoridation. When I moved here twenty years ago, I was pleased to learn that Kamloops’ water was fluoridated. That optimism was realized when my son had no dental cavities before the age of eighteen. At that age, my mouth was full of cavities. I grew up in Edmonton where the water wasn’t fluoridated. Of course, one anecdote is not scientific proof.
Perhaps world-wide studies showing the benefits of fluorides are wrong. Maybe the World Health Organization is actually promoting world illness. Maybe health officials who sing the praises of fluorides have been bought off by the fertilizer manufacturers who supply the fluorides. And maybe dentists are promoting harmful tooth poisons in order increase their business. But I don’t think so.