Prophylactic vs. Poison

The will of the voters in Portland, Oregon has endured for more than fifty years, for the fourth time rejecting fluoridation of the city's tap water in a ballot referendum.  On Respectful Insolence, Orac writes "public water supplies are a precious commodity. To justify putting something in them requires good evidence of safety and efficacy."  And continues "since 1945 the fluoridation of drinking water has reduced tooth decay by 40-70% in children and tooth loss in adults by 40-60%."  Orac respects Portlanders' right to more cavities, but says "classic antiscience arguments" won the day at the polls.  There were posters and comics likening fluoride to a deadly poison—which, in drastically different concentrations, it is.  Orac says "the dose makes the poison, and the levels used in municipal water supplies has a long history of safety."  Elizabeth Grossman chronicles a different poison on The Pump Handle: lead, which according to the CDC, will harm you from any exposure.  Unlike fluoride, lead plays no known role in human health, and can cause severe neurological damage.  But it does have useful properties when mixed with paint (among other things).  The US banned lead paint in 1977, but it still exists in some 30 million homes across the country, and is still used worldwide.


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Fluoridation of water supplies isn't just controversial in the United States, it's controversial all over the world. Governments are concerned whether there is a need for fluoridation or whether fluoridation committees are worth the money. Countries all over the world have tried fluoridation, but problems arise like malfunctioning equipment and community opposition. In the countries that do support water fluoridation, dental and health organizations also support it. Residents are concerned that fluoride levels could get to high and become toxic. Governments see these obstacles as too high a hurdle to jump and completely nix the programs. Personally, I think fluoridation in countries that do not have readily available dental care could benefit from the fluoridation of their water supplies. Although, if they can't afford dental care, how is the government to afford fluoridation?

This is real life. The mass public, research, ethics, and culture coming together. Fluorine in water is not something that you can taste, see, smell or otherwise detect by yourself. This makes people nervous. Very understandable. They don't water their water messed with, even though their drinking water is already treated with other chemicals. This may seem hypocritical, but its how people think, even myself. The research is there about fluorine, but do people trust it? Thats another issue. Fluorine has an interesting and infamous history during the red scare

The debate on fluorine is not simply the academics vs the ignorant or 'conservative'. Most people brush their teeth, and many tooth pastes contain fluorine. Maybe the solution is to have a public health campaign on fluorine and cavities, urging people to choose fluorinated tooth paste, and stop fluoridating all the drinking water, making people feel that much more at ease. Remember, making people feel more at ease also has tangible and scientific benefits.

By Haroon latif (not verified) on 06 Jun 2013 #permalink