Notes for tomorrow's F-debate

Editor's note: this post was originally published at Myles Kitagawa's personal blog space.

I guess it’s not going to be my first debate on CityTV’s breakfast television tomorrow morning ~ but it’s been a while.  The all-candidate’s forums of the 2001 municipal elections had a definite debate-like quality to them.  And one year Edmonton’s academic highschool debate champions challenged my MLA (member of the legislative assembly) and myself to a debate on climate change.  

So, tomorrow at 9am, CityTV is going to air a feature story on water fluoridation in Edmonton and producers decided to accompany it with a live debate on the issue featuring a local dentist and me.

I actually think it’s going to be kind of fun.

I’m not an anti-F activist.  All of the AlexJonesian idiocy about fluoride being a tool of the NewWorldOrder and it’s global depopulation project really annoys me. In fact, I believe that water fluoridation probably doesn’t hurt most people.

But just because something doesn’t hurt people isn’t an argument for public dollars being spent on it.

Topical application of fluoride is good for your dental health.  I think that is a fact and it is undisputed.  Applying fluoride to the surface of your dental enamel prevents tooth decay.

The issue is this: in a developed country like Canada, in a fluoridated community like Edmonton, we are paying three times for essentially the same treatment.  I pay my dentist for fluoride treatments once per year.  I pay for my toothpaste that I apply to my teeth twice per day.  And I pay as a citizen for the extremely weak fluoride solution of that passes over my teeth whenever I drink tap water.  The question is, is there any value to this extra water fluoridation expense that we’re all forced to pay collectively, when we already pay for more effective treatments individually.

I think a big part of the answer is found by looking at the last 30 years of dental health data for developed countries as gathered by the World Health Organization.  This information looks at 18 countries, 14 that do not add fluoride to their water and 4 that do.  What we see is a comparable improvement in dental health across all countries.  So, I think this third payment is actually wasted money.

But then we should consider that there are some people who should not be drinking fluoridated water.  American Dental Association and the Canadian Pediatric Society both advise that infant formula not be prepared with fluoridated water. So now we have people, the parents of newborns, who must in a sense pay a fourth time for fluoridation – this time to avoid it.

Then there are the people who wish to avoid fluoridated water because of the unanswered questions on how it might affect human health. There is really interesting research on the associations with silicofluorides in drinking water and human health effects.  There are several – including cancer and bone health - but I’ll only mention the ones that I think are really interesting and that’s those are the associations between fluoridated water and IQ – where fluoridated water reduces children’s ability to evacuate lead from their bodies, and an association with hyperactivity and reduced impulse control – both of which would indirectly lead to learning problems. 

Now Health Canada is correct – on a weight-of-evidence approach- there isn’t enough information in this research to make definitive conclusions.  But we’re discussing a treatment which is probably inferior, definitely redundant, to things were are already doing so there is no reason to continue to run this risk while the research continues.  And from an economic perspective,  we’re spending $600,000 per year in direct costs on this probably inferior, definitely redundant activity.  Which City Council could easily find other uses for that would be more appreciated by Edmontonians.

Learning from Water

During a break in today’s workshop on multi-party collaboration, Acting in Concert, a colleague spotted the following graph on my laptop screen. 

“Is that a graph of our progress in environmental protection?” he asked me. I explained that it’s a graph of the 40-year downward trend in frequency of dental cavities.  read more... »