Mt Ruapehu myfathersworld net nz

The mountain after which the district is named, Mt Ruapehu, is the highest in New Zealand’s North Island (2797 m – 9175 ft) Source: myfathersworld.net.nz (cropped from original)

I discovered just a few weeks ago that in 2011, after a presentation from some anti-fluoride activists, my local council stopped putting fluoride in our water. Their presentation went unchallenged, but was supported by one councillor, and by the end of the meeting these idiots had managed to put a stop to community water fluoridation in Taumarunui. I knew nothing about this until I happened to notice an article in our weekly community newspaper, the Ruapehu Press, that the Waikato District Health Board (the WDHB is the health board responsible for this area) appeared before the council to ask them to put it back.

(Full disclosure – I worked for the WDHB from 1993-2005.)

Most of the time I worked for the WDHB, I lived in Hamilton. During that time anti-fluoride activists were trying to get it taken out of the water there. The anti-fluoride propaganda, which is all misrepresentation, misinterpretation, or mendacity, was thick on the ground. There were also attempts to discredit anyone who spoke out in favour of fluoridation, or at least discount their comments. For example, a prominent GP wrote a letter to the editor supporting fluoride in the water – the anti-fluoride activists said his comments weren’t to be trusted as his wife was employed by the WDHB – he was clearly only writing, they said, as a favour to her.

There was a referendum, which showed the community strongly supported the retention of fluoride in the water. This wasn’t good enough for its opponents though, and they carried on their campaign. Eventually, after a change of mayor, they managed to get fluoride removed from the water anyway, in opposition to the result of the referendum. There has since been another referendum in Hamilton (2013), showing the community wants fluoride back. The Hamilton City Council continued to refuse to take notice of their constituents, and said they’d wait until the outcome of a court case taken by the anti-fluoride fools in another district – a majority of councillors were clearly in thrall of the activists. The “antis” lost that court case – Hamilton is still waiting for fluoride in its water.

I moved back to Taumarunui in 2007, and I thought I was moving somewhere that had the sense to have fluoride in its water . Yes, because of what was happening in Hamilton, I consciously thought that at the time. Now I’ve discovered that it was removed from the water here four years later.

They seem to have done it by stealth, but to be fair, I don’t know for sure if that’s true. There was certainly no referendum, and no-one ran for council on a platform of removing fluoride. However, I’m not that good at noticing what the local council gets up to, so it’s possible I just didn’t notice that they sought community input on this decision. I do think it unlikely they sought the community’s opinion though; since I discovered this, I have been asking people, without revealing my own opinion until afterwards, what they think. So far, every single one has wanted fluoride back in our water. Not a scientific study to be sure, but likely indicative.

Pevreal, Diane

Diane Pevreal, WDHB Oral Health Manager

So we come to 6 May 2015, and Stephanie Rangi’s article in the Ruapehu Press that alerted me to the fact that we have a majority on our council that don’t understand science. Diane Pevreal, WDHB Oral Health Manager, made a presentation to the council on the benefits of fluoridation. I spoke to Mrs Pevreal by phone a few days later. Pevreal clearly cares deeply about the many in this area who are suffering needlessly because of this decision by local council. “It’s frustrating,” she said, “because this should be a no-brainer. Fluoridating the water would benefit the entire population, over and above any other actions they’re already taking, including a good oral health regimen and low-sugar diet.” As I discussed with Mrs Pevreal, the science is settled on this. However, the council seemed not to recognize this fact.

Wood, Rhonda

Councillor Rhonda Wood

Rangi’s article came from her reporting on the Ruapehu District Council’s 30 April long-term planning meeting. She noted that the fluoridation issue generated considerable discussion. However, it seems it was not the sort of discussion that was likely to lead to an informed decision, and in fact, a decision is still pending. Councillor Wood went off on a tangent about whether the government should provide dental surgery at the local hospital and how difficult is was for the elderly (and presumably plenty of others too) to get up the stairs at the only local dentist. Important issues to be sure, but completely irrelevant to the issue of whether or not there should be fluoride in our water.

(More disclosure: I worked with Mrs Wood at both the Taumarunui Gazette and King Country Radio in the 1980s, and I voted for her.)

Rangi’s report of Councillor Broderson’s comments give me the impression he’s swallowed the playbook of the anti-fluoride crowd:

Broderson, Bruce

Councillor Bruce Broderson

Bruce Broderson, councillor for the Taumarunui ward pointed the finger at another culprit.

‘‘In all the reports, it says fluoride is needed more because of this diet of sugar intake. So aren’t we attacking the wrong thing? Why aren’t we fixing the sugar problem rather than making everybody have fluoride?’’

Broderson added that they could decide to put fluoride back into the water supply, but that would be giving people in Taumarunui no choice.

‘‘They have to drink it. They have no choice. That’s against human rights, surely?’’

For goodness sake! Using that argument, you could say just about anything was against human rights. In order to have a cohesive society we have laws. Some of those laws mandate certain behaviour, and are designed to improve society as a whole. Most parents want their children to get a good education and do everything they can to bring that about – for those that don’t, we insist their children go to school anyway. There are thousands of other examples of laws that it could be argued breach an individual’s human rights, but we have them for the good of society. We follow road rules, health and safety regulations, building regulations, and we don’t walk down the middle of Hakiaha Street naked and pissed on a Saturday night after an evening at the Cossie Club.

Moving the target to sugar is just a ‘bait and switch’ tactic. This, of course, is also irrelevant to the argument. Fluoride in the water improves dental health whether or not diets are too high in sugar. Fluoridation is a bigger issue for those whose diet is high in sugar, but it helps everybody. Broderson says, “Why aren’t we fixing the sugar problem …?” However, I have seen absolutely no proposals, let alone actions, by council, before or after the 2011 decision, to tackle the level of sugar in diets. And, to use his own argument against him, wouldn’t any action to control diets breach the human rights Broderson says he’s trying to protect?

Further, children have little choice in their diets. Surely it is incumbent upon the council to protect them to the extent they can by at least giving them some protection in the form of fluoride in the water if their parents or caregivers don’t enforce a good diet and oral hygiene regimen. And as I’ve already pointed out, fluoride provides protection in addition to other factors.

The anti-fluoride position was supported by teacher  Shannen Neal, who, according to Facebook, moved to Taumarunui from Hamilton in January this year. She is a graduate of Waikato University, but judging by her anti-fluoride stance, that hasn’t helped her ability to understand science. Rangi’s reporting of Neal’s comments:

‘‘It should be a personal choice. It’s not natural,’’ Shannen Neal said. ‘‘If you want to take a supplement that helps you then that’s your choice.’’

Piriaka Hill

View north from Piriaka Hill Lookout

The good ole “it’s not natural” argument. What I call, “the argument from stupidity”. Actually fluoride is natural. It occurs in our water naturally. Treatment takes the natural fluoride out. When you fluoridate water, you’re just putting it back in, although usually at a different level than it occurred naturally (sometimes higher, sometimes lower) because scientists have discovered the best level to give protection without causing fluorosis i.e. 1mg/L. If you want natural water, why bother to treat it at all? All the things taken out in treatment, like harmful bacteria, are completely natural. By the anti-fluoride argument, chlorinating water is also unnatural. All those who religiously go out to Piriaka to get their water from the spring on the side on the hill are getting fluoride in their water – whether or not that fluoride is at the level recommended by health professionals is another question.

The 2009 New Zealand Oral Health Survey conducted by the Ministry of Health found that children have a 40% lower incidence of decay in fluoridated regions than in unfluoridated ones. Given this fact, it is unconscionable that our council is not fluoridating our water. As the Ruapehu district is one of the most socio-economically deprived areas in the country, their failure is only compounded. As the World Health Organisation pointed out in it’s 2009 report on the fluoridation of milk:

In the vast majority of countries, dental caries is highly linked to socio-economic status and prevention by automatic administration of fluoride through water, salt, or milk is documented to be most equitable.

The US think tank, the Institute for Science in Medicine, prepared a white paper in 2012 to respond to those who attack water fluoridation. They stated their motives for producing the report were:

Declared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be one of the ten greatest public- health achievements of the Twentieth Century, community water fluoridation has been under attack by a small band of critics since its inception. The scientific consensus over fluoridation’s health benefits, safety, social justice, and economies has been firmly established over six decades of widespread use in the United States and elsewhere. Nevertheless, anti-science critics have never relented in their opposition — recycling previously disproven charges of harm, inventing new ones out of whole cloth, misrepresenting scientific facts and research, exaggerating risks, understating benefits, inappropriately invoking the precautionary principle, and accusing public health officials of corruption, conspiracy, and ‘mass medication’ of whole populations.

Anti-fluoride campaigners will try to tell you that fluoride isn’t essential. This is incorrect. As the ISM points out, “fluoride is a micro-nutrient essential to the development and maintenance of teeth and bones. Fluoride-fortified teeth are significantly resistant to dental caries [decay].” Fluoridating the water supply is also extremely cost effective. For every US$1 spent on fluoridation, US$38 – US$80 is saved every year on dental treatment, and it “… lowers the rate of tooth decay by 20-40% in children, over and above the effect of toothpaste and other sources of fluoride.”

The ISM also exposes the tactics used by the anti-fluoride movement in the United States. The same tactics are used by Fluoride Free NZ. For example, they state that “97% of European countries do not fluoridate their water supplies”. This is both misleading and inaccurate. Great Britain and Ireland both fluoridate their water, but when this is pointed out to campaigners, they change their statement to “continental Europe”. Spain and some smaller countries fluoridate their water, and most others don’t, however, this is too misleading. Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France use fluoridated salt instead in the same way we have iodized salt. Several countries fluoridate their milk instead of their water, including Switzerland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Russia. (Switzerland has some of the best oral health in the world.) The main reason other countries don’t fluoridate their water is because it occurs naturally. Some of them have to take fluoride out because the natural rate is too high. I suspect this is where the fear of fluoride originally came from.

Fluorosis India

Children in India with skeletal fluorosis. Source: India Natural Resource and Economic Management Foundation

Anti-fluoride campaigners use scare tactics about the risk of fluorosis, caused by too much fluoride, and show photos of sufferers who have a severe form of the disease. They then fail to mention that these people do not have this disease because their water is part of a managed water treatment program – it is because their untreated water supply has natural levels of fluoride up to fifteen times that of proper water fluoridation programs, and is extremely rare.

I read the “facts” provided by Fluoride Free NZ. They claim a link between fluoride and low IQ. Seriously? You’d have to have a low IQ to be taken in by their claims. If you choose to read their “facts”, please make sure you also click on the link to the Institute to Science in Medicine’s white paper above. Some will say this is just two competing claims. No. Just no. The conclusions in the ISM’s paper are supported by real peer-reviewed science – those on Fluoride Free NZ’s website are not.

The science is clear, no matter what anti-fluoride campaigners try to tell you – adding fluoride to drinking water is a good thing. It is recommended by the following people and organizations – this is not a conspiracy theory folks:

World Health Organisation
World Dental Federation
New Zealand Dental Federation
New Zealand Ministry of Health and all District Health Boards
New Zealand Medical Association
American Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Sir Peter Gluckman – Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister
National Fluoridation Information Service
and more

Those opposed to the fluoridation of water belong with those who oppose vaccines (for other than medical reasons), don’t accept that climate change is real, think homeopathy has a scientific basis, and think “maybe there’s something to” astrology.

In all surveys carried out in informed communities in New Zealand, the majority have always chosen fluoridation. There are ways to avoid fluoridation for those who do not want it, and they can use those measures if they choose. The rest of us want to take advantage of living in the modern world where public policy decisions are evidence-based.