The Great Fluoride Debate

The Great Fluoride Debate

If you ask 1000 people whether they’re in favour of adding fluoride to drinking water, the result will likely be 51:49. Which way I couldn’t say, as it mainly depends on who people listened to last. 

This is a fundamental problem with asking the public about this controversial issue.On one hand, we have the anti-fluoride campaigners and on the other we have the pro-fluoride health professional lobby. 

A few years ago, a colleague  wrote a paper , “Fluoridation, fragmented facts.”   Her paper looked at all the past studies on fluoridation and reached the conclusion that overall the benefit to dental health was proven but the amount of benefit could not be quantified.  Interestingly, her paper has been used by both sides in the argument to validate their positions.

 So where do I sit on this spectrum?  As an engineer, not a health professional,  I  defer to the health professionals in authority – in this case, the Ministry of Health and its officers.  They are the experts and have the resources to assess the public health risks. 

But what about the  anti-fluoridation campaigners and the  links they make between ill health and fluoridation.  As an engineer, my input is not to decide whether they are right  or not, that is the responsibility of the health professionals.  My responsibility is to make sure that any water treatment system we design will protect the public from overdosing and will minimise the risk to the operator who has to deal with these unpleasant chemicals.

So what is the solution for adding fluoride to water?  Firstly, it should not be a decision taken by the public.  They simply don’t have access to sufficient  information to make a robust informed decision. Secondly, it can’t be imposed nationally as the focus on water treatment must be firstly on making the water safe to drink.Adding fluoride for dental health must be second to keeping e.coli, giardia and other matter out of our water supplies (these can kill you). 

Surely our focus must be on providing drinking water that won’t kill you and then worrying about dental health later.

This thought leadership article by Iain Rabbits, a Senior Water Specialist Engineer at Harrison Grierson.

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