Imagine if Whitehorse city council condoned a policy that contributed to horrible dental problems suffered by the city’s poorest residents. Actually, there’s no need to imagine, as the city’s standing policy of not adding fluoride to the water supply accomplishes precisely this.
It’s true that our current cast of municipal politicians did not actively make this decision. Instead, they inherited a move made by their forebears more than 15 years ago. Predictably enough, dentists soon afterward observed a spike in the number of cases of serious tooth decay following this decision, but any complaints have long since frittered out.
So why raise the issue now? Well, because it bears repeating that the city supports a policy that leads to poor kids having their teeth rot and fall out. Maybe our municipal leaders are fine with this. If not, maybe it’s time they did something about it.
The reasons for removing fluoride were spurious at the time, and remain so today. A small group of deluded citizens pushed for the change, believing that the city’s water supply was being contaminated by nasty chemicals. This wrongheaded campaign bore many similarities to the opposition to childhood vaccinations that we have heard so much of lately, with growing occurrences of measles outbreaks in places like Toronto.
There is a strong scientific consensus that fluoridation of water is a safe way to strengthen tooth enamel. It’s also well understood that this measure largely benefits the poorest in society, who are the least equipped to otherwise adequately care for their teeth. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. considers fluoridation to be one of the 20th century’s most effective public health measures.
Similarly, the World Health Organization deems fluoridation to be “the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay.” Health Canada also supports the measure, noting that “the weight of evidence from all currently available studies indicates there is no link between any adverse health effects and exposure to fluoride in drinking water at levels that are below the maximum acceptable concentration.” In short, the science is clear: fluoridation is safe.
Yet cities continue to fold under pressure from conspiracy theorists who think we’re poisoning ourselves with it. Calgary decided to remove fluoride from its water supply three years ago. Unsurprisingly, children’s tooth decay is now on the rise there. More recently, in May 2013, Portland, Oregon, also voted to remove fluoride from its water.
Opponents of fluoridation describe the substance as a poisonous chemical that does not belong in our drinking water. In fact, Whitehorse’s drinking water already contains some naturally occurring fluoride – just not enough to provide all of the desired protective benefits.
Is it dangerous to drink too much fluoride? You bet, and the same holds for consuming pretty much anything else. You can even die from drinking too much water. As doctors like to say, the dose makes the poison.
With fluoride, the recommended dose is just one part per million. That’s equal to just one drop in half a bathtub of water. It’s true that just one-tenth an ounce of fluoride can kill you, but nobody is proposing that anyone consumes such quantities of the stuff.
It’s also worth noting that Whitehorse’s water supply is still treated with another scary-sounding chemical: chlorine. This stuff is so toxic that it’s used as a chemical of war. So why isn’t anybody freaking out about it going in our drinking water? The answer, of course, is that the miniscule amount of chlorine, added to kill pesky bugs and bacteria, is perfectly safe.
Fluoride fearmongers may point to a 2012 Harvard study that raised the question of whether high fluoride levels impacted the IQ of children. But this study largely looked at children in rural China who lived in areas with massive amounts of fluoride in the groundwater, far exceeding the recommended dose.
So the question before city councillors should be a pretty simple one: are they willing to stand up to the ill-considered views of crackpot conspiracy theorists, if it means reducing the amount of misery needlessly inflicted on poor residents? At the very least, this should merit a public discussion.