Friday, November 23, 2007

To fluoridate or not to fluoridate

It seems like there's no such thing as a sacred cow these days.
Fluoridation of tap water has always been up there with vaccinations as one of health research's great success stories since the initial science was done way back in the 1940's.
Now, though, significant doubt is being placed on its efficacy and even on its safety.
It turns out that, while childhood cavities have been significantly reduced in countries using fluoridation, they have also been equally reduced in countries like the U.K. and most of Europe which don't fluoridate their water. This suggests that improved dental education and fluoridated toothpastes are likely more to thank, especially as the fluoride is directly applied to the teeth rather than the more hit-or-miss method of swallowing fluoridated water. Which sort of makes sense to me.
More worrying, but also more disputed, is new research which purports to show that our excessive fluoride intake may be linked to a bone disease called childhood oteosarcoma, reduced IQ levels and hypothyroidism.
Interestingly, Canada is almost evenly split between provinces like B.C. and Quebec which generally don't add fluoride to their tap water, and others like Ontario, Manitoba and Albert which fluoridates the vast majority of their water.
Even more interestingly, Toronto has recently (unbeknown to most people) halved the amount of fluoride is puts in the water, as has the province of Quebec.
Health Canada is, for now at least, sticking to its guns:
"The fluoridation of drinking water supplies is a well-accepted measure to
protect public health that is strongly supported by scientific evidence."
The Canadian Dental Association concurs.
Where does that leave me, the average Joe on the street? Do I have now have a choice between drinking water or brushing my teeth (but not both)?

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