Please stop making the following arguments about fluoride
There are valid arguments on both sides of the fluoride debate. These aren’t them.
I did a story about fluoride, and I’ve done some coverage of the fluoride referendum in Prince George, so as a result I’ve been getting Tweets/comments/emails about fluoride, largely from anti-fluoride people. As an adult who brushes his teeth, whether fluoride stays or goes has no effect on me personally, but I do have trouble with some of the talking points I keep seeing. So please, if you are going to argue against fluoride, don’t use the following:
- “I only want water in my water.” I take this to mean that you want the city to deliver you your water, untouched and unaffected. But I’m not really sure how far you want to take this. I presume you don’t want it untreated, because untreated water is full of bacteria and other things you probably don’t want to drink. So the city, like many cities, treats it with chlorine. It’s a trade-off- the addition of a chemical for improved health outcomes. Similar to the argument in favour of fluoride.
- “Call poison control and tell them you ingested fluoride and see what happens.” Yes, fluoride is a poison in high doses. So is chlorine (see above). So is oxygen. Actually, so is literally everything you put into your body. It’s all about the levels. Try calling poison control and telling them you drank water with 0.7 mg/L of fluoride in it, the level recommended for Canadian water. That’s a better indicator.
- “Fluoride isn’t natural.” Yes, it is. It is found in vegetables, the air, and water. That’s how we found it. In fact, in some parts of the world removing fluoride so it reached the levels it is in the water here would be tampering with it. You could have people arguing to not remove fluoride because taking it out isn’t natural.
- “It’s like drinking suntan lotion to prevent sunburn.” What? No it isn’t. I believe the point is that fluoride works by coming into contact with the teeth, not by being ingested. But when you drink water with fluoride in it, fluoride comes into contact with the teeth. If you were to drink suntan lotion, it would not come into contact with your skin at all. So no, not the same.
- Links to most studies about fluoride causing some form of problem. Again, the levels thing comes into play. The vast majority of studies people have sent me, posted, etc about fluoride causing any form of health problem is when fluoride is in excess of 1.5 mg/L in the water, beyond the maximum allowable level in Canada. There is no doubt that fluoride in high levels can cause health problems. But the 0.7 to 1.0 mg/L you get in Prince George is widely considered to be safe and beneficial, time and time again, by peer-reviewed science. To make a terrible analogy, it’s like baking: a bit of baking powder in your cake will make it that much better. Dump in a whole bunch and it’s ruined. Levels matter.
- “Science has been wrong before.” This comes after someone points out that Health Canada, the Canadian Dental Association, the American Centre for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and countless other medical organizations, doctors, and dentists have endorsed low levels of fluoride. I’m not really sure of the point here. Is the suggestion that we should no longer trust any recommendation from our doctors, dentists, and health professionals? Science has been right before, too. Quite a few times. So… yeah.
I’m mostly reacting to anti-fluoride arguments because they are the ones who contact me the most. In the interest of fairness, here are some of the more frequent pro-fluoride arguments that also don’t work:
- “I drank the water all my life and I’m fine.” Anecdotal. Doesn’t necessarily prove anything on a population level.
- “I drank the water all my life and have no cavities.” Anecdotal. Doesn’t necessarily prove anything on a population level.
- “Are you scared of wi-fi, too?” Doesn’t address the argument at hand, simply seeks to discredit the person making it by portraying them in a negative light. Proves nothing.
It’s fascinating to me that despite huge amounts of consensus in the scientific and medical communities that fluoridating community drinking water is safe and beneficial, this continues to be such a controversial issue. It says a lot about the degree to which people trust- or don’t trust- medical and scientific experts.
I do think there are valid arguments to be made on the anti-fluoride side, just as I think there a valid arguments from the pro-fluoride side, as well. I think we would have a much better and more informed discussion if we eliminated all of the arguments outlined above.
To that end, I’m hopeful that if/when fluoride is removed from Prince George’s drinking water some sort of study is taken up to the measure the effects on overall population health, dental and otherwise, so we can have more data to increase our understanding of fluoridated waters benefits and drawbacks.