Monday 20 November 2017

Troubled waters

A growing anti-fluoridation movement says the water coming out of our taps is doing us more harm than good - a claim the Government and dental professionals reject as not being based on fact. Arlene Harris reports

FOR many people the word fluoride is simply something they associate with toothpaste. Others will know that it's added to our water supply, while some believe it causes grave health concerns for our children and general population.

Cavan and Monaghan County Councils are among the latest councils to call for an end to fluoridation of Irish water, with both agreeing in the past month to write to the Government and Irish Water to express their concerns. The move by both councils comes on the back of a growing anti-fluoridation campaign in Ireland.

The Department of Health, however, says the addition of fluoride to our water is of great advantage to the health of the nation.

"Water fluoridation is the adjustment of the natural concentration of fluoride in drinking water to the optimal recommended level for the prevention of dental caries," says a spokesperson. "In Ireland, naturally occurring levels of fluoride tend to be so low that they do not provide sufficient dental benefits. Artificial water fluoridation replicates a natural benefit by making good a fluoride deficiency in some water supplies.

"This strengthens teeth, which results in fewer fillings, extractions and visits to the dentist. There has been a substantial reduction in the proportions of people with decayed, missing and filled teeth in areas supplied by fluoridated drinking water when compared to those in non-fluoridated areas, and the benefits are shown in a number of studies internationally."

Fintan Hourihan, chief executive of the Irish Dental Association (IDA), agrees and says fluoride provides many benefits to oral health.

"In common with every other recognised national dental association globally, the IDA strongly supports the policy of fluoridation as an essential element of oral health policy," he says. "The benefits with regard to oral health, most particularly for those in deprived circumstances, are extremely well documented. Recently, dental leaders, representing over one million dentists in 134 countries, reaffirmed their strong support for fluoridation."

Debate

The topic of fluoridation is one that has been up for international debate. In Europe, Germany, Finland, Denmark and France are among the countries that don't fluoridate their water. About 10pc of the UK's population has their water fluoridated. Canada, the US and Ireland are among the biggest fluoridation adopters, though a number of Canadian municipalities have banned fluoridation in recent years. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the US sees water fluoridation as a huge success in public health.

Hourihan says that, at the fluoride concentrations recommended for the prevention of dental decay, scientific research and reviews show that general health is not adversely affected. The policy of fluoridation is supported by all dental schools in Ireland and all training bodies for dentists, nurses and hygienists across the country.

But while the IDA and the Department of Health are steadfast in their support of the fluoridation of our water, others feel that we are being put at risk.

Fluoride Free Water was established in 1999 with the aim of lobbying the Government to put an end to artificial water fluoridation.

"Fluoride, as a word on its own, is meaningless," says Mary Hilary, secretary of the organisation.

"However, in relation to compulsory artificial water fluoridation in Ireland we are talking about an extremely toxic fluoride compound called H2SiF6, which is hydrofluorosilicic acid. This is contaminated with lead, arsenic and mercury amongst other toxins and is added to our drinking water every day. According to Danish scientist Kaj Roholm, who published Fluorine Intoxication in 1937, the rating is 'extremely toxic'," says Hilary.

"We believe there is no need to drink toxic industrial-grade chemicals for any reason. It is unlawful, harmful and unethical and most EU countries do not practise compulsory artificial water fluoridation for health, legal and environmental reasons. There are many studies of other harmful effects such as increased incidence of hip fractures in the elderly, thyroid dysfunction, and lower IQ in children."

These views are at odds with the official line, but Hilary and her colleagues believe our drinking water isn't safe, particularly when it comes to children.

"I personally believe there is serious concern for babies and children, and neither should be given water containing toxic fluoride, lead, arsenic or mercury for any reason," she says.

"Our advice is to avoid tap water where possible. Use a filter or buy bottled water when eating out. As well as being exposed to water pollutants from drinking and cooking water, washing, showering and bathing also increase our exposure. Stopping artificial water fluoridation would stop pollution from this source, and it needs to be done now."

False

The IDA is keen to quell any notion that fluoride is harmful and says there is plenty of research that proves these claims to be false.

"Regrettably, an amount of scaremongering has been engaged in by opponents of fluoridation, claiming an association between fluoridation and adverse medical outcomes, none of which have been supported by credible, peer-reviewed research," says Hourihan.

In 1987, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded there was "inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals". The World Health Organisation has reviewed the use of fluoridation in water over the years, and concludes that fluoridation within certain levels (0.5mg-1.0mg/litre) does not have any adverse medical effects. Excess fluoridation, it says, can lead to fluorosis, which can range from white to brown stains on teeth to skeletal problems.

"It is alarming that so many outlandish claims are still being propagated by anti-fluoridation campaigners in spite of the fact that all of these scares have been debunked by an independent expert body - most recently in New Zealand where, in August 2014, the Royal Society of New Zealand review addressed the most common scares cited by anti-fluoridation campaigners," says Hourihan.

For more, go to:

www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/ factsheets/cost.htm.

www.fluoridesandhealth.ie

www.fluoridefreewater.ie

Irish Independent

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