Prime-time Dishonesty from Anti-Fluoride Group

I was shocked to discover that the anti-fluoride organisation Fluoride Free NZ had purchased advertising time on TV3 (one of the major NZ broadcasters) to promote their agenda against community water fluoridation (here’s the ad). They point out that local councils are purchasing hydorfluorosilicic acid for the purpose of fluoridation. They then claim that this hydorfluorosilicic acid is a “waste” product of the fertilizer industry and that it contains lots of “bad chemicals” responsible for serious health concerns. Oh, and to visit their website for some “facts”. Let’s look into what reality says:

Firstly, to suggest that “hydrofluorosilicic acid is commonly known as fluoride” is ludicrous. They are not the same thing. Given that water fluoridation has been found to be safe and effective, it makes sense that anti-fluoride campaigners have turned their aim onto hydrofluorosilic acid. While it is true to say that hydrofluorosilicic acid is a by-product of another chemical process (The NZIC have produced a document describing the production process of hydrofluorosilicic acid), what’s the matter? A molecule of an something is the same regardless of where,how or for what it was produced. To call hydrofluorosilic acid a waste product is no more than a matter of perspective. One could easily descirbe the production process as efficient and sustainable, since the by-products don’t need to be dumped and a whole new facility exclusively producing hydrofluorosilic acid doesn’t need to be built.

It’s not clear why they claim that hydrofluorosilic acid contains toxic elements. Of course, they also omit any information about the concentration of these materials (which are always going to be present in water in very small amounts). In terms of the dissolution of hydrofluorosilicic acid in water, Ken who runs the Open Parachute blog addresses the claims made by anti-fluoride campaigners. In short: hydrofluorosilicic acid is more convenient to use than sodium fluoride (which is found in toothpaste, just check the tube). Since both compounds dissolve in water to give fluoride ions, their effects are the same. The silicates that exist in solution are not any more highly concentrated compared to unfluoridated water and they are not capable of causing corrosion in pipes.

Be sure to check out some of Ken’s other posts regarding the matter of water fluoridation, he has written some excellent posts addressing the claims made by anti-fluoride groups and individuals over the past several years. In particular, his posts which cover the legal action taken by anti-fluoridation interests that was supported by Big Natural Health! (see here and here).

I find it supremely ironic that Fluoride Free NZ has the nerve to go on TV and imply that water fluoridation is part of some conspiracy by Big Business to shirk costs when  anti-fluoride action has been bankrolled by corporate interests! I’ll bet many people never imagined a concept such as Big Natural Health actually existed. After all aren’t they supposed to be the good guys? No, “natural health” products are made in factories from chemicals (gasp!) just like most other products these days. (John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight did a segment highlighting the power of the Natural Health industry).

So excuse me if I’m dismissive of Fluoride Free NZ and their attempt to mislead the public about water fluoridation. Given the track record of anti-fluoridation campaigners, it is not worth listening to them. It is disappointing that TV3 decided to broadcast this ad. It is my opinion that they have not lived up to their moral obligation to present their viewers with accurate information. Given the financial issues that TV3 has experienced in the past, it comes as no surprise to me that they would do anything for a few dollars.

We deserve better than Fluoride Free NZ and we deserve better from TV3.

7 thoughts on “Prime-time Dishonesty from Anti-Fluoride Group

  1. Thanks for sharing your views on the issue. I totally agree that the ad is more lurid than informational.

    I consider water fluoridation to be a classical instance of neoliberal actionism, in an attempt to cover up an evident symptom of what happens when a public good, namely health, is essentially privatised. The actual political response to New Zealanders’ bad dental health should be a proper public health system; one under which all kiwis (not just children) are entitled to free preventive dental care, plus at least basic treatment. Given that water fluoridation may only retard, but not stop caries and tooth decay, I struggle to see any sustainable benefits to dental health in NZ if people continue to see a dentist no more than once in a decade.

    • Thanks for your comment. I also support free dental care as part of the public health system. Even within such a framework, water fluoridation could play a part to minimise the number of painful and expense of dental operations. This may keep the financial cost of a funded dental service down.

      Admittedly, such logic is really just another example of neoliberal thought! So long as the loudest voices on this matter choose to mislead and scaremonger, there will not be much room for society to discuss initiatives like state-funded dental care. The anti-fluoride groups would be more credible if they promoted such ideas instead of their current, implicit lassiez-faire approach.

  2. Yep, that’s another perfectly neoliberal argument, indeed! 😉 One argument in favour of water fluoridation that I could support is that some studies [1,2] suggest (although further research is needed to verify this hypothesis [3]) that such a measure may possibly help to reduce social disparities in dental health.

    Overall, however, I still dislike the “one size fits all” concept of water fluoridation, as it simply doesn’t fit all. Given that there are alternative and more sustainable means of improving dental health, I am not currently convinced that the benefits of water fluoridation can outweigh that we’d effectively cut off many kiwis’ water supplies:
    * those who do not want to use fluoridated water, e.g. because they assess the associated risks more conservatively than government officials
    * those who are already affected by dental fluorosis
    * dialysis patients or people suffering from certain kidney malfunctions, for which risk assessments regarding fluoride intake are not available at this stage

    Similarly, a scientific panel for the EU recently concluded that “topical application of fluoride [fluoride applied directly to the teeth, e.g. fluoride varnish that a dentist would apply during a check-up if deemed necessary, or fluoridated toothpaste] is most effective in preventing tooth decay”. In contrast, the “effect of continued systemic exposure of fluoride [exposure of the whole body, e.g. through fluoridated water or from fortified foods] from whatever source is questionable once the permanent teeth have erupted”. [4, p 32]

    [1] C Parnell, H Whelton and D O’Mullane: Water fluoridation. European Archives of Paediatric Dentistry 10.3 (2009): 141-148.
    [2] B Truman et al.: Reviews of evidence on interventions to prevent dental caries, oral and pharyngeal cancers, and sports-related craniofacial injuries. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 23.1 (2002): 21-54.
    [3] M McDonagh et al.: A systematic review of public water fluoridation. University of York, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, 2000.

    • That’s a very insightful and well-researched series of points. Regarding the issue of “a one size fits all solution to a situation that doesn’t fit all”, one may ascertain whether the harm inflicted upon those asterisked cases outweighs the benefits that most of the population might experience. Should we abandon all types of collective action because they harm certain sectors of society?

      I came across an old press release from 2011 by the Progressive Party. Briefly, their plan includes: Free dental services as a preventative measure, incentives to attract dentists to rural locations, advertising to make the population aware of dental services and a parliamentary inquiry into the suitability of fluoridation. If only all political parties took this issue as seriously! As I see it, at the very least water fluoridation is a good stop-gap measure until NZ elects a government that cares about its people and implements funded dental services for all.

      • Thanks for digging up the old press release! It’s a pity that none of the current political actors openly pursue such a more comprehensive plan in the ongoing debate.

        Obviously, almost any law implies advantages for certain groups and disadvantages for others. For very good reasons, democratic systems typically complement decision making processes by the majority rule with strong protection of individuals/minorities; human rights probably being the most prominent example. Therefore I believe that we have to be quite careful in this particular case before we weigh up both sides’ arguments and interests in a simple utilitarian fashion:

        In a developed country like NZ, a home with no domestic (drinkable) water supply would certainly be considered to not meet a minimum standard of living. I’m not a legal expert, but I could also imagine that for the asterisked groups in the comment above, water fluoridation could possibly touch Sections 10 and 11 of the NZ Bill of Rights Act, which includes the rights not to be subjected to medical or scientific experimentation without consent and the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment.

        Maybe a win-win solution that addresses these issues could look like this: DHB’s introduce water fluoridation, but households with individuals for whom an elevated systemic fluoride intake would imply unclear or higher health risks than for the general public are entitled to claim expenses for a suitable water filter.

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