Fluoride wars

The science is unequivocal: fluoridation promotes good oral health. So why are so many people still scared of it? Susan Chenery talks to Dr Michael Foley from the Australian Dental Association about his experiences fighting the good fight.

Things are rotting in the state of fluoridation in Queensland. Now known by some as “the toothless state”, it has been abandoning mandatory water fluoridation since LNP leader Campbell Newman placed it in the hands of local governments in 2012 and made it voluntary.

Now around three quarters of councils don’t fluoridate water.

Since the legislation changed, more than 20 councils have voted against it— including those that never fluoridated in the first place. This has left a little over a million Queenslanders without access to water with fluoride added. Dentists say that it is not hard to tell which part of the state a person comes from.

Dr Michael Foley, spokesperson for the Australian Dental Association (ADA), believes that dental health has been placed in the hands of those on local councils who do not have the expertise to make qualified assessments.

“Water is a major public health measure and should be a Federal Government responsibility,” says Dr Foley. “This is where high-level public health expertise lies.”

In addition, he says councils are being bombarded by emails from highly organised and coordinated anti-fluoride campaigners. “The head guy in the world is called Paul Connett, a retired chemistry professor in upstate New York. [Connett and his supporters] will use every argument they can possibly think of. They accuse water fluoridation for being responsible for every medical condition of mankind, from brittle bones to kidney disease to heart disease to allergies.”

Foley says that any town “from north Queensland to California to New Zealand” that is considering or debating fluoridation will be targeted and inundated with slick and convincing information. “I tell my students I defy anybody to look at their website and not have doubts about fluoridation. It is really really slick. It is rubbish, of course. They will pull out an animal study or some dodgy study from China. And they also say it is against human rights.”

“Water is a major public health measure and should be a Federal Government responsibility. This is where high-level public health expertise lies.” —Dr Michael Foley, Australian Dental Association

Prior to a recent debate in Ingham, North Queensland, Foley discovered there had been a letterbox drop. “Brochures that had all this stuff about how Hitler used fluoridation in his concentration camps to subdue the Jews. It would be laughable if it wasn’t people’s health being affected by it.”

Local councillors are being bamboozled, he believes. “They are good, decent people doing a tough job. But they know nothing about public heath, nothing about science and nothing about fluoridation. And for every letter that councillors get from the ADA or the AMA or the Health Department, they will get 10 or 50 from these people in a relentless campaign. Most councillors just throw up their hands in horror thinking that the science is divided. They are very easy prey to a relentless scaremongering campaign of misinformation.”

One councillor in Ingham had a daughter on dialysis with serious kidney disease. “So of course she was immediately scared when the spokesperson for the anti-fluoridation cause used the same arguments—from cancer to every disease—and thought [her disease] was from fluoride in the water.”

In fighting his rearguard action on behalf of the ADA, Foley has found himself in a full-scale war.

When Lismore Council put it to the vote in May last year, Dr Kerry Chant, the NSW chief health officer, arrived to support the proven scientific facts.

The anti-fluoride people had run a vicious campaign. “One of the nutters threatened her with sarin gas,” recalls Dr Foley. “The mayor spoke up on behalf of fluoridation, got out of her car and had the car door slammed on her head. One of the local dentists, Brendan White, spoke out on behalf of the ADA in Lismore and he had his rubbish bins overturned, he had rocks thrown on his house, he had abusive phone calls. He even had a female protester come up to his private dental practice when he had patients in the waiting room, and urinate on his front door step.”

Lismore voted against fluoride. Even though (according to a local survey)Northern Rivers children have the worst teeth in the state of NSW.

“[There were] brochures that had all this stuff about how Hitler used fluoridation in his concentration camps to subdue the Jews. It would be laughable if it wasn’t people’s health being affected by it.”—Dr Michael Foley, Australian Dental Association

Dr Foley—who says he has never made a dollar defending fluoridation—has been a moving target. “Over the last 10 or 15 years, I have had endless amounts of threats: threats to sue me, hang me, castrate me, jail me. It is just how these people operate.”

Even politicians, he says, get subjected to “all this abuse, this relentless campaign.”

In Ingham, he debated his nemesis Merilyn Haines, president of Queenslanders for Safe Water, Air and Food, who claims that fluoride is used as insecticide to kill cockroaches and ants.

For his trouble, Haines sent a seven-page formal complaint to the Premier, the Opposition Leader, the Health Minister, the Opposition Health Spokesman, her local MP, and the Director General of QLD Health, “insisting that I be reprimanded, demoted, disciplined. It was not pleasant getting this complaint where she wanted me disciplined and demoted. She also insisted that Queensland Health promise that I would never speak or write on behalf of water fluoridation again.”

As always, says Foley, it is the most vulnerable people who will pay for this war being waged on water. “Often most of the tooth decay is seen in the elderly and in disadvantaged people from a low socio-economic background. People who are poor and frail and don’t have the ability to really floss their teeth well. People whose diets have changed or people who are on lots of medication that dries their mouths.” Oh and the taxpayer. “Poor dental health that is largely preventable ends up with somebody paying for it. Probably taxpayers.”

Sadly, there has never been a better time to be a Queensland dentist.

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  1. The use of industrial waste from the fertilizer industry to fluoridate is unsafe( 800 tonnes per million people per year). Naturally occurring calcium fluoride is not used . The contaminants such as arsenic and cadmium have no safe level when given to a population over many years .The morbidity and mortality from using this cheap waste is not justified.
    As a practising dentist and Past President of the ADA ( SA) i think Dr Foley’s is wrong . The abuse i have received over many years is unprofessional. The ADA has banned me from membership and harassed me and other dentists who have concerns about the use of industrial waste to fluoridate the population.The ADA is bringing great discredit to the profession by forcing their view and trashing anybody who tries to discuss the issue.
    It is time to open the debate and hear both sides of the issue. I think informed consent is very important.In the past 2 years the USA,Canada and New Zealand have moved to lower the max level to 0.7ppm due to concerns about fluorosis.
    I would be pleased to publicly debate Dr Foley at a time suitable to us both.
    The 2017 ADA convention would be a good time if im allowed to attend.

    1. Dr. Andrew:
      You are absolutely correct. This toxic waste fluoride used in drinking water, hydrofluorosilicic acid, is ineffective for teeth and dangerous to health.

      Fluoride causes lowered IQ and increased ADHD in children.
      The EPA has now classified fluoride as a neurotoxin (nerve and brain poison). Also, the world’s most renowned medical journal, “LANCET,” in 2014 reported that fluoride is a neurotoxin in the same category as mercury, lead and arsenic.

      Fluoridation causes enamel damage (dental fluorosis) in 41% of all children (CDC data) and has also been shown to lower IQ in children with 50 research studies. Now it has been proven to cause ADHD, as reported in the “Journal of Environmental Health” (by Malin & Till, 2015).

      A 2015 study from England’s University of Kent found that drinking water with added fluoride can wreck your thyroid, and lead to weight gain and depression.

      1. Maybe james can list the medical and dental case histories of the people who have illnesses or disease from C.W.F at .7PPM There should be easy to find with 370 million people using fluoride daily
        If there was any truth in what he says

    2. Andrew, claims of contaminants like arsenic and cadmium in fluoridating chemicals is simply chemophobia. The fact is the levels of heavy metals can be measured and certificates of analysis are required.

      If you look at the actual reported levels of contaminants and calculate the contribution they make to your tap water you find that the fluoridating chemicals contribute far less than 1% of the concentration of the heavy metals already in the natural source water.

      I have done the calculations here – https://openparachute.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/chemophobic-scaremongering-much-ado-about-absolutely-nothing/

  2. I am a pro fluoride medico who once sat on a committee overseeing the recycling of waste water. I cannot imagine that public health authorities would add anything to the water supply that contained arsenic or cadmium. I would appreciate a definitive statement of what is used to fluoridate water supplies and where it comes from.

  3. Fluoridation of water supplies is a serious public health issue. So is denial of scientific evidence especially when the deniers resort to threats, violence and other illegal and dangerous acts. But a bit of levity never physically hurt anyone especially if the author is the butt of the article.

    Max Kamien Australian Doctor November 29, 2002

    Kick in Teeth for a Doctor of Letters.

    I was reared in the days when children were weaned on milk arrowroot biscuits and rewarded by doting grandparents with Violet Crumble bars. As a result, I have made regular contributions to the cost and upkeep of the Alfa Romeos and Porsches of two generations of dentists. This has primed my awareness of dental health as a major part of the health and well-being of the Australian populus.
    In the early 1970s I was resident in the far west of New South Wales, as part of Professor John Cawte’s Arid Zone Project. Eight percent of my consultations with Aboriginal patients were due to toothache. The dental health of Aboriginal children and adults was appalling and in some cases mirrored the illustrations found in 19th century textbooks of dentistry. I saw cases of osteomyelitis of the mandible from longstanding dental abscesses, some of which resulted in fistulae that drained out below the patient’s chin. The dental health of non-Aborigines also left a lot to be desired.

    Fluoridation was in the news and was seen by some as a positive and major public health measure and by others as an infringement of human rights and a communist plot to poison citizens of the free world. A 1968 Commission of Enquiry in Tasmania had supported fluoridation but the press remained ambivalent.

    Two rural towns in the Central Coast region of New South Wales had decided to fluoridate their water supplies and several hundred people from each town immediately reported symptoms ranging from dizziness, nausea and acute fatigue to haemorrhoids and impotence. But the fluoride machine in one of the towns would not work and they were yet to receive any fluoride at all.

    My task was to explore the role of the doctor as an agent of social change for the health and well being of the people in far west New South Wales. Clearly fluoridation of water supplies was part of my brief. I prepared a short position paper and sent it to all the shire clerks in the area with a request that fluoridation be discussed by the shire councillors. I also made a request to appear before them. Some three months later I was asked to turn up to one of those shire’s monthly meeting. I put my case, succinctly, to 12 Councillors, the Shire Clerk, the Health and Building Inspector and four concerned constituents of that shire.

    The Shire President then announced that after reading and discussing the issue of fluoridation the councillors were divided in their opinion. They had discovered that a reputable nutritionist, Sister Philomena Earle of St John of God Hospital in Belmont, Perth (“the same place that you come from”) was against fluoridation and had listed its dangers. They had counted the number of letters after her name and after mine and since she had a lot more they had decided to vote against fluoridation.

    Now Sister Earle’s only real qualification was a BSc but she was a paid up member of lots of organisations whose acronyms were appended after the BSc. I quickly replied that I was a modest man who did not use all of my qualifications that I then wrote out in full on a nearby blackboard. When you have a Diploma of Psychological Medicine from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of London (DPM (RCP & S) Lond. and a DCH (RCP & S) Lond.) this is the beginning of an alphabet of letters. The Shire President counted all the letters on the blackboard and announced that I had more letters than Sister Philomena Earle. Consistency and logic therefore dictated that he would change his view and vote for fluoridation. His view carried the day.

    The Building and Health Inspector accompanied me to my car. On the way he said, “Well Max, you are a frigging fool”. “How’s that Tom”, I replied. He answered, “Haven’t you noticed that every bloody house has a rainwater tank. No one drinks the bloody water from the town’s supplies. They only wash in it”.

  4. Dr. Harms, jwillie6 and other fluoridation opponents (FOs) selectively extract and edit information from over 70 years of research that has examined the benefits and risks of community water fluoridation. They use discredited studies and deliberately distorted conclusions to create the illusion of a public health program that is ineffective and dangerous – fabricating “evidence” that alleges drinking optimally fluoridated water causes a variety of serious health problems.
    Unfortunately it is far easier to sell fear than it is to promote a considered review of more than 70 years of complicated scientific research. The majority of scientists and health professionals in the world who are involved with the study of fluorine chemistry and community water fluoridation or who treat patients who drink (or do not drink) water containing fluoride ions overwhelmingly support community water fluoridation as a safe and effective public health measure for reducing dental decay (and related health issues) in a community. Fluoridation opponents (FOs) are experts at exploiting fear.

    Fear is not science. And the science is the reason over 100 national and international science and health organizations (and their thousands of members) — as well as six Surgeons General since 1982 – continue to recognize the public health benefit of fluoridation as a safe and effective method to reduce dental decay. These organizations include The WHO, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association.
    ~> ada(dot)org/en/public-programs/advocating-for-the-public/fluoride-and-fluoridation/fluoridation-facts/fluoridation-facts-compendium

    FOs have no rational explanation for why many thousands of individuals who are committed to understanding science and doing everything in their power to improve people’s health continue to recognize the benefits of fluoridation and reject the alleged “evidence” FOs seem to believe is so clear and convincing.

    The fact is that once you actually take the time to carefully examine the fear-laced propaganda of FOs, strip away the fear-laced headlines and read the actual science, you will discover the evidence provides no proof for the fear-based claims.

    A balanced review of all the evidence (not just the carefully selected and edited opinions in anti-F propaganda) can be found in two extremely helpful reviews:

    The 2016 World Health Organization report: Fluoride and Oral Health, Conclusions:
    —> “Studies from many different countries over the past 60 years are remarkably consistent in demonstrating substantial reductions in caries prevalence as a result of water fluoridation. One hundred and thirteen studies into the effectiveness of artificial water fluoridation in 23 countries conducted before 1990, recorded a modal percent caries reduction of 40 to 50% in primary teeth and 50 to 60% in permanent.”
    —> “More recently, systematic reviews summarizing these extensive databases have confirmed that water fluoridation substantially reduces the prevalence and incidence of dental caries in primary and permanent teeth. Although percent caries reductions recorded have been slightly lower in 59 post-1990 studies compared with the pre-1990 studies, the reductions are still substantial.”
    —> “The question of possible adverse general health effects caused by exposure to fluorides taken in optimal concentrations throughout life has been the object of thorough medical investigations which have failed to show any impairment of general health.”
    ~> who(dot)int/oral_health/publications/2016_fluoride_oral_health.pdf

    Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council 2016 Fluoridation Report, Conclusions:
    —> “Water fluoridation within the current recommended range in Australia (0.6 to 1.1 mg/L) is effective in reducing the occurrence and severity of tooth decay in children, adolescents and adults. In Australia, water fluoridation within this range can be associated with an increase in dental fluorosis. This is often not readily visible and it has no effect on the function of teeth. There is no evidence that water fluoridation within the current Australian range is associated with any adverse health effects.”
    ~> scimex(dot)org/__data/assets/file/0017/106523/16399-NHMRC-Fluoride-Information.pdf
    More references
    ~> who(dot)int/oral_health/publications/2016_fluoride_oral_health.pdf
    ~> scimex(dot)org/__data/assets/file/0017/106523/16399-NHMRC-Fluoride-Information.pdf
    ~> ilikemyteeth(dot)org/fluoridation
    ~> americanfluoridationsociety(dot)com/home
    ~> bfsweb(dot)org
    ~> msof(dot)nz
    ~> ada(dot)org/en/public-programs/advocating-for-the-public/fluoride-and-fluoridation
    ~> cdc(dot)gov/fluoridation/index.html
    ~> scientificamerican(dot)com/article/a-plan-to-defend-against-the-war-on-science
    ~> ngm(dot)nationalgeographic(dot)com/2015/03/science-doubters/achenbach-text

  5. I am that Councillor that Dr Foley refers to in his interview.
    At no point in time did I or anyone else think or suggest that my daughter’s kidney disease was caused by drinking fluoridated water. I am very disappointed in Dr Foley for suggesting otherwise. My daughter asked the question if flouride is removed from the body by the kidneys how does your body get rid of it when ur kidneys no longer work. My daughter is on haemodialysis. She was not given a straight answer on the night. I received an email a few days later informing me that the filters on the machine remove any fluoride from the water and the dialysis machine removes any from the body. The question I have is if you have impaired kidney function be it from old age diabetes or some other medical reason how does ur body remove the flouride if you are not having dialysis?
    Prior to the information night on fluoride that was had by our Council, allowing both sides of the argument to have their say I had very little contact from the antifluoride movement. It was actually a procampaigner that prompted me to ask these questions.

    Dr Foley I expect at the very least to receive an apology for ur comments in this article.

  6. Community Water fluoridation reaches 370 million people every day, Not forgetting the millions that have used it in the last 70 years.
    The anti fluoride lot will tell you it causes every illness from asthma to yellow fever, at .7PPM. But if that was the case, you would expect at least a million proven medical and Dental case histories of this so called damage, to make it a real concern
    But when you ask them for one. They all run back and hide under their rock. Why? Because there is none.
    So really all this scaremongering is to support their own personal agenda, And the wishes of the Natural Health Industry. Who stand to make millions from the sale of water filters and related rubbish
    When CWF is stopped it is the community that loses Because CWF cuts the dental health bill . “per capita annual benefit ranged from $5.49 to $93.19.” http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0528.2012.00684.x

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