DIFFERING PERSPECTIVES ON WATER FLUORIDATION
By Cori marshall
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Clean drinking water is essential to human survival. People have the right, not only to know what is being added to the water that enters their homes and businesses they have the right to understand in very clear terms what the additive is doing to and for their bodies. It is with this in mind, that we are looking into water fluoridation.
Fluoridated water is said to have many benefits in preventing tooth decay. Yet the issue remains highly polarized and hotly debated. Is adding fluoride to our water supplies a marvel of mass medication, or a human health risk?
According to a University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry, Water Fluoridation: Questions and Answers, “42.6% of Canada's population, on public water supplies, is receiving water fluoridation." In fact, health Canada endorses the process, stating that"fluorides protect tooth enamel against the acids," that cause cavities. At the federal level, the use of the additive is encouraged.
Water quality policy is under the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, and the decision to fluoridate or not usually rests in the hands of the municipality. It is at this level that the picture begins to form that attitudes toward fluoridation may not be uniform. The level of the population receiving fluorides ranges from 75.9% in Ontario to 0% in Nunavut and Yukon.
When you look at Central Canada there are two very different scenarios that can be seen. On one hand, you have Ontario at 75.9% and Québec at 6.4%. Are the ways that fluoride is perceived in the two provinces really that different?
The low percentage does not indicate the province's commitment to water fluoridation. The ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, Québec's health and social service ministry, operates the Quebec program for the fluoridation of drinking water. The program's stringent requirements call for daily and monthly analysis, and the quality of the process is monitored by the Laboratoire de santé publique du Québec (LSPQ).
It is quite clear that the government of Ontario supports fluoridation of municipal water supplies. A non-binding Private Members Motion was introduced by MPP Bob Delaney. The motion demonstrates Queen's Park's commitment to the fluoridation process, it sought to "remove the portions of the Ontario Municipal Act that allow a municipality to opt out of fluoridation of its drinking water once the process has started." It also would see the province offer technical and financial assistance to cities wanting to fluoridate their water supply.
A look at international numbers shows the same image some societies opt for fluoride in their drinking water while others do not. Our NAFTA partners the United States has 64% of its population drinking fluoridated water, while Mexico has none. European countries mostly have low percentages of fluoridation and most of Western Europe is fluoride free.
In fact, the population in most countries do not consume fluoridated water. There is still a debate on whether or not to fluoridate water. There are governments and health associations that endorse and promote the use of fluorides to prevent tooth decay, and on the other side, those advocating for the end of its use. We spoke to experts on both sides of the issue to get as clear a picture as possible.
We spoke with Dr. Benoit Soucy, Director of Clinical and Scientific Affairs for the Canadian Dental Association (CDA). The CDA endorses the use of fluoridated water in Canada "because it is a demonstrated vehicle to expose teeth to fluoride," Soucy said. He added that "exposure to fluoride at [a] low dosage, many times a day, is a good way to reduce the risk of dental decay."
Soucy said that "dental protection against tooth decay is the only benefit," that can be derived from fluoridating public water. At the levels permitted in Canada, 0.7 parts per million, "there is minimal risk of any side effects," Soucy underlined. The CDA does not believe that water fluoridation should be mandatory because "it is just one vehicle for the delivery of fluoride, and there are many [others] that can be considered."
Another reason against mandatory water fluoridation may be class and education. The example of a large city where you have unbelievable affluence and miserable poverty, Soucy said "people who have the means to buy fluoridated toothpaste and have the education to use [it] twice a day, these people do not need water fluoridation." Those who cannot afford or have access to that type of toothpaste "are the ones who benefit," from the process.
The association does not back its mandatory use because it will only be useful in some parts of society and not others. The CDA would like to see the decision-making process to fluoridate based on whether or not there is a real need.
We also spoke with Ian Culbert, the Executive Director for the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), another association that endorses the use of fluoride in drinking water. Culbert said that "community water fluoridation is effective at preventing tooth decay even when other sources of fluoride are used." He added that the use of fluoride is beneficial for the whole community especially when estimates show "one-third of Canadians do not have the financial means to access professional dental services."
Culbert assured that evidence suggested that "there is no increased risk of cancer, bone disease, I.Q. deficits, thyroid suppression, kidney disease, diseases of the immune or reproductive systems, nor genetic, neurological, developmental, or any other health effects."
When fluoride toothpaste is used it is used topically, on the surface of the tooth. When water is fluoridated it is ingested and taken into the body, it that the best way to deliver the fluoride to the tooth? Culbert said that "both [methods] are effective, however, systemic application results in the incorporation of fluoride into the enamel during tooth formation."
There is one benefit of fluoridation, and after speaking with two organizations that endorse its use there not many drawbacks. There are still those who deny the benefits and say there are many health risks. We spoke with Paul Connett PhD, Senior Advisor to the Fluoride Action Network and co-author of The Case Against Fluoride, to hear the arguments of those who are against its use in community water systems.
When asked to make his case against the use of the additive, Connett said he wants people to recognize that "nature or evolution, call it what you like, did not find a use for fluoride in the body." Though fluoride is naturally occurring and there is no use for it in the body he found it "astounding that we would add this artificially to our water." Connett suggests the substance is "highly toxic."
Connett argued that the low levels contained in it, mother's milk offers protection to the baby from fluoride." He continued by saying "water fluoridation removes [that] protection."
Connett suggests that "in the United States and Canada, over 40% of children are experiencing the first visible signs of fluoride's toxicity." The condition is called Dental Fluorosis which is a discolouration of the enamel at differing degrees of severity. Connett explained that "when water fluoridation began in the 1940s it was believed that
dental fluorosis would be limited to 10% of children."
The anti-fluoride advocate said that the "real issue is what's happening to the tissues [of the body] that you can't see."
Connett points to "over 300 studies that say that fluoride is neurotoxic, it can damage the brain." Animal tests revealed that "exposure to fluoride inhibited their learning ability and memorizing ability."
The alarming thing is that "51 out of 58 human studies showed fluoride lowers I.Q. at levels that are uncomfortably close to those in fluoridated communities," Connett said. He added that a Chinese study indicated that "exposure to 1.4 mg of fluoride (2L of water by Canadian standards) lowered I.Q.s by 5 points."
I had to ask him, with such a serious threat to cognitive ability, why then are health officials and governments still endorsing its use?
Connett suggested that "dentists and doctors aren't trained very well in this area." Connett is a retired professor and said that you couldn't "talk about a controversial issue without exposing the students to the other side." He believes that this is not happening.
The underlying issue, according to Connett is that "medical professionals are scared stiff, if they lose water fluoridation they will lose the trust of the public," in the area of other health practices.
Connett did not come to this position lightly, he was highly skeptical of the view against fluoridation and only began reading the literature because of his wife.
As you can see there are arguments and positions both for and against water fluoridation. Both sides are backing these points of view with data and studies, one does have to ask about the quality of those studies and do we really know all there is to know about the effects of fluoride? We all want to have safe sources of water and the best way to protect it from fluoride or have fluoride protect our teeth is to get informed and become part of the discussion.
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