Fluoridated water: Why I worry

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Cosmetic and Restorative Care
BSc, BDSc (Melb)

It is problematic for any dentist to express opinions on the issues pertaining to systemic water fluoridation of fluoridated water. Pro-fluoride sentiments are too easily dismissed as biased or arrogant. An anti-fluoride stance, on the other hand, could be seen as an attempt to drum up business.

I was raised in the United Kingdom, where there was no water fluoridation at the time. As a child, I had serious problems with my own teeth that resulted in numerous visits to the dentist for hardcore treatment. I found these experiences so confronting that they  eventually inspired me to face my severe dental phobias by becoming a dentist myself.

Now, as I reflect daily on my own two children’s dental and overall wellbeing, I am repeatedly reminded of the fluoridated water conundrum.

Here I share my insights into the conflicting thoughts I have each time I see one of my children hold a glass of water to their lips.

The case for Yes

I haven’t met a single dentist with professional experience in non-fluoridated regions who doesn’t cringe at the levels of dental decay they witnessed in those regions…. rampant decay on surfaces of teeth where you would never ordinarily see decay; decay in children, decay in adults and decay in the elderly at levels that kept the dentist busy all day long just drilling out soft cavities and filling them with dental restorations.

Clearly my kids’ minimal tooth decay rates are due to the fluoride they are constantly exposed to. So I have to thank fluoride when I see their eyes light up at the mention of going to the dentist – because the visit involves fun and health education rather than extraction forceps and anaesthetic needles designed in another era.

The case for No

Fluoride deposited into our water system gets into all living things because life depends on H2O. Fluoride is in the water we drink. Fluoride is in all the food we eat. It’s entrenched in our food system. You can’t escape fluoride by drinking bottled waters or certified organic foods.

This raises some uncomfortable questions.

Although the amount of fluoride being deposited into the water supply is fixed and known, how can we be sure where else fluoride is accumulating?

We know conclusively that fluoride acts strictly topically on our teeth. So why are we swallowing it, consuming it, absorbing it into our bodies? Could there be side-effects from  the lifelong absorption of an element that is accumulated and stored in our bodies?

Is water fluoridation a form of mass medication? What happened to my freedom of choice in declining to be medicated? It seems this decision affecting my body and my children’s bodies has been made for me, whether demonstrably favourable or not.

By extension, if we know Omega 3 can reduce the incidence of diabetes and heart disease and we know Vitamin B can have overall health benefits, why are we not mass medicating the public with these?

My education in health taught me definitively that any form of medication needs to be administered according to the relevant individual’s weight or body mass. So why is it OK to administer the same dose of fluoride (via water and foods) to a 10 kilogram child and an 85 kilogram adult male? (This is especially problematic when you consider that the child absorbs most of its hydration through water and milk.)

Why should I feel comfortable with large white blotches on my children’s front teeth because of water fluoridation? Is it possible that, with a stringent program of surface fluoridation, my children’s teeth could have avoided the life-long legacy of blotchy teeth while still enjoying minimal dental decay?

The case for a better way

As an individual, as a dentist, as a parent, I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I believe there needs to be more public debate, and substantially more funding for research into these questions. If there is a better way to fight dental decay and maintain our wellbeing and freedom of choice, we owe it to ourselves as a community to find that way.

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