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By Dr. Bob Dickson
and Dr. Hardy Limeback
The fluoridation debate is still very much alive in Calgary, where pro-fluoridation advocates have had a field day, citing claims that seemingly support their position. Many of those claims are either misleading or completely incorrect.
A recent letter in the Calgary Herald signed by 22 dentists, doctors, academics and periodontists claimed, more than 3,000 peer-reviewed studies demonstrate that fluoridation is effective and support its safety.
In fact, not a single properly conducted drug trial (randomized, double-blinded) has ever been conducted on fluoridation. The globally respected Cochrane Collaboration found a meagre 19 valid non-randomized studies, all with weaker designs. Only three of those were conducted since 1975.
The letter also claimed fluoride is 26 to 44 per cent effective in reducing cavities. This is based on old, weak science. At most, the benefit from fluoridation is perhaps one filling saved per person over 40 years.
Calgary city council decided in 2011 to eliminate fluoridation, a decision that was supported by four previous plebiscites.
The move is both a cost-saver and good for children. It would cost Calgarians at least $50 million to fluoridate for 40 years. That’s about $450 in taxes per filling, much more than the cost of a filling. And worse, many children will end up with dental fluorosis (in the U.S., where fluoridation is common, fluorosis in teens has skyrocketed to 58 per cent), a problem that local dentists state can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Thus, the cost of fluoridation far exceeds its claimed benefit.
Fluoridation advocates also claimed fluoride occurs naturally in Calgary water at concentrations of 0.1 to 0.4 parts per million (ppm), and that fluoridation merely entails topping it up to 0.7 ppm. If Calgary’s water supply already contains up to 0.4 ppm naturally, then ‘topping it up to 0.7 ppm’ will do little to prevent cavities, especially when there are so many other proven sources of fluoride, such as toothpaste, dental treatments and inexpensive prescriptions.
These claims are based on research led by Dr. Lindsay McLaren, published in February 2016. But that research was unable to show an effect of fluoridation cessation after 2011 in Calgary. The study itself noted it had many limitations.
Why, then, do some dentists and orthodontists in Calgary claim that things are much worse since fluoridation was discontinued? Such a claim is anecdotal and unscientific, and not all dentists agree with it. Policy should be made not on claims but on properly conducted clinical study.
There are also concerns about fluoride’s effect on IQ.
A study published on Sept. 19, 2017, and funded by the National Institutes of Health, showed pregnant mothers in Mexico, with fluoride consumption at similar levels as pregnant mothers when Calgary was fluoridated, had offspring with significantly lowered IQ. This carefully controlled study raises serious questions about the safety of fluoridation for infants.
Dentists in Alberta – who are not toxicologists – continue to push for fluoridation when nearly all communities in B.C., Quebec and Europe have eliminated the practice. Perhaps citizens and professionals in those jurisdictions know something Calgary dentists don’t.
In fact, more than 4,000 professionals worldwide have publicly called for an end to fluoridation.
Well-intentioned fluoridation proponents say they’re helping children and the poor. Ironically, and sadly, it’s infants, kids, the underprivileged, the chronically ill, elderly and people of colour who are most susceptible to harm from fluoridation.
Medical science has frequently made errors. Medical and dental associations have endorsed smoking, asbestos, lead, BPA, mercury, thalidomide, Vioxx and many others. Just as they were wrong then, they’re wrong again.
Fluoride, after all, is not necessary for any body function, unlike calcium, vitamins B and D, or iodine, which are essential to health, or chlorination, which kills organisms before they reach our bodies.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and create the equivalent of Scotland’s Child Smile program, which has shown spectacular results since 2001 in improving dental health and overall health for their children.
Together we can make a major impact on the well-being of our children without medicating our water.
Robert C. Dickson, MD, CCFP, FCFP, is a community physician in Calgary and is the founder of Safe Water Calgary (www.safewatercalgary.com). Hardy Limeback, PhD, DDS, is the recently retired head of preventive dentistry at the University of Toronto.
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