News Feature | September 24, 2013

Should Fluoridation Be Public Policy Or A Punishable Offense?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

To fluoridate or not to fluoridate? That is the question, and despite the support of health organizations and the conventional wisdom that fluoridation is a no-brainer, not everyone is saying yes. 

Canada is one of the hesitant countries. "Water fluoridation remains a contentious issue in Canada and many communities choose not to fluoridate their water supply," according to a paper by the Canadian Dental Association. 

Less than half of the Canadian population has access to fluoridated water supplies, the paper says. In 8 of Canada's 13 provinces and territories, a majority of the population does not have access to fluoridated water.

Ireland is also less than enthusiastic. Legislation currently under consideration would not only universally ban fluoridating the water; it would also confer jail time for anyone who adds it. 

Proponents of this legislation emphasized cost. As one backer put it in The Journal, "The money spent on fluoridation could be spent on improving awareness of oral hygiene and healthy eating among children in Ireland."

The issue is also a hot debate in Australia, where dental groups are lobbying strongly on the issue, saying it would benefit public health. 

"Community water fluoridation continues to be the most cost-effective, equitable and safe means to provide protection from tooth decay and has been successfully utilized in Australia for over 50 years," according to the Australian Dental Association.  

Most areas of Australia have already begun fluoridating the water. "Water fluoridation was introduced to Australia in the 1960s and every state and territory now provides it to 70 percent or more of its population," The Guardian recently reported

But not everyone supports it. The report said the debate there has "flirted with the unhinged…An anti-fluoride protester at a public meeting in Lismore last week ominously [told a fluoride proponent], “I have friends in Syria. Do you know of sarin gas?'"

As Water Online reported, fluoridation opponents are becoming less and less unusual. "While fluoridation is still the norm throughout North America, a growing number of cities are challenging the practice," the report said. 

For instance, Portland, OR keeps voting down fluoridation and did the same this year. That "means the city will continue to be the largest metropolitan area in the country without fluoridated water or plans to add it," The New York Times reported

For the unfamiliar, nutrition expert Monica Reinagel breaks down the pros and cons of fluoridation in a nutshell at Quick and Dirty Tips.

On the plus side, this practice is seen as "a safe and effective way to reduce cavities and tooth decay in the general population....The World Health Organization points out that benefits are greatest for those who don’t have access to adequate dental care." 

On the other hand, "Opponents of fluoridation say too little is known about the long term risks of fluoride ingestion." They point to studies that see negative health consequences, though the other side disputes much of that data.

In the U.S., two thirds of the population has fluoride in their water, according to The Guardian report, which provides a useful breakdown of fluoride practices in various corners of the world.