Fluoridation, a waste of resources | The Jackal

24 Jun 2013

Fluoridation, a waste of resources

There's been a lot of debate recently concerning fluoridated water since the Hamilton council voted to remove it from their cities water supply. The debate has been robust, but there is in fact no clear winner. This has prompted The Jackal to investigate the positive or negative effects of population wide drinking water fluoridation.

The question really comes down to whether the benefits outweigh the cost and any detrimental impact on people's health, and whether there are alternative interventions and strategies that could be employed instead of fluoridation?

In order to understand this we need to look at what the research is telling us, and unfortunately there are defects in most studies because of a lack of appropriate analysis.  For instance no study looks at the degree of tooth decay, dietary changes or the effects of other potential confounding factors.

Despite these research-based issues, there is conclusive evidence that children who drink fluoridated water have slightly less tooth decay. However high levels of fluoride need to be administered to achieve this, with low levels having no measurable benefit compared to people who drink non-fluoridated water. There is also evidence suggesting that there's no benefit in drinking fluoridated water later in life.

The issue here is that even relatively low doses of fluoride have been shown to cause dental fluorosis, or a mottling of tooth enamel. At 1 ppm, far lower than current concentrations, fluoride causes 12.5% of the population aesthetic concern in the form of white streaks, specks, cracking or discoloration of the teeth. This condition is usually permanent.

There has also been some scientific speculation that fluoride can cause an increase of bone fracture and bone development problems, however observer bias and contradictory findings make these studies unreliable. Likewise, studies into the increased risk of cancer from fluoridation have been inconclusive.

Although there are many claims to the contrary, there's currently a lack of any robust scientific evidence to confirm the benefits of fluoridation are greater for people who live in conditions of material deprivation.

In many ways it's still an unresolved debate... However with most of the adverse effects of fluoridation not being properly studied and a number of confounding factors making the existing research unreliable, the use of widespread fluoridation as a way to reduce tooth decay is not recommended.

There is no conclusive evidence that the benefits outweigh the cost and of more concern, the potential detrimental impact on people's health. There is also a number of other ways to help reduce caries in the general population that have been proven just as effective as fluoridation, which do not have any associated health concerns.

Therefore people should be given the opportunity to choose if their water supply is fluoridated or not. Having mass medication that doesn't benefit the majority of the population is of no advantage to society, and is simply a waste of resources.

Instead, a more targeted approach should be taken, which would include increased oral hygiene and dietary education and a reduction in the availability of foods and drinks containing sugar causing tooth decay.

In my opinion, these products should be appropriately taxed, with the proceeds going towards promoting healthier choices. This would have a two fold beneficial effect of helping to reduce obesity, which like the terrible rates of tooth decay in New Zealand is an issue that the government seems determined to ignore.