Do you avoid drinking tap water because of the presence of fluoride in your local water supply?

 

Are you unsure whether or not fluoride in drinking water is good or bad for your health?

 

Do you want to avoid drinking water that contains fluoride but aren’t sure how you can best protect you, and your children’s teeth, without using fluoride?

 

If that’s you, you’re in the right place!

 

In this three-part series on fluoride in drinking water, I’m chatting to both an acclaimed dentist and toxicologist in an effort to uncover the facts and find the information so you can make an informed choice about your drinking water that best suits you and your family.

 

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I’ve wanted to prepare an in-depth feature on fluoride in drinking water for a number of years now, but to be honest, I was a little scared to. It’s such an emotive topic with strong, and logical, arguments both for and against, and I didn’t want to get caught up in the craziness of it …… but I simply can’t ignore it any longer.

 

The main reason I can’t ignore it because the presence of fluoride in drinking water is the no.1 reason people tell me they avoid drinking tap water.
As an experienced environmental engineer and scientist, I’ve been a long time campaigner against bottled water. The waste issue alone arising from people drinking single-use bottled water is phenomenal, not to mention the emissions from manufacturing and transporting the product to market in the first place.

 

The statistics around bottled water are alarming and include;

* The average Australian drinks 14 litres of bottled water per year.

* It takes up to seven litres of water and one litre of oil to produce one litre of bottled water.

* Tap water has 1 per cent the environmental impact of bottled water.

* Bottled water production makes 600 times more CO2 (a greenhouse gas) than tap water.

* Discarded drink bottles account for 38 per cent of the total rubbish volume.

* Water bottlers (Coke & Schweppes) of Australia are fighting against legislation for a container deposit scheme. In my home state, South Australia where a container deposit scheme has existed for over 35 years, return rates are around 80%. Drink container recycle rates for the rest of Australia are less than 40% (source).

 

Put simply, bottled water does not make environmental or financial sense, and because it’s typically contained in plastics bottles, I don’t believe it makes health sense either…..but that’s another issue…..

 

For almost three decades I’ve carried a reusable (typically stainless steel) drink bottle around with me that I’ve refilled with tap water throughout the day (sometimes filtered, but not always). I’ve worked for water treatment plants at various stages in my environmental engineering career and have taken hundreds of water samples for analysis from these water treatment plants to ensure they meet, or exceed, the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

 

It’s always been my belief that Australians boast among the highest quality of drinking water in the world. In fact, there are still millions of people around the world who don’t have access to a clean water supply, full stop.

 

They must envy us like nothing else.

 

But my interest in fluoride in drinking water, and whether or not it’s a good thing, extends much further than that.

 

Around 97% of Australia’s population live in areas where fluoride is added to the water supply.

 

I’m in the 3% of Australians who live in a town where it isn’t in the supply.

 

In the last month alone, three of my close friends have had to take days off work and pull their child out of school for a few days to travel to the nearest large hospital (typically 600kms away in Adelaide) to have their six year old child placed under general anesthetic to either have teeth extracted or extensively filled or both! And that’s just this past month….. so many of my son’s friends have fillings or have had teeth pulled …. it’s just a normal occurrence with his classmates at school.

 

I still very clearly remember one of my son’s kindergarten friends a couple of years ago returning from a trip away to Adelaide with ‘Robot Teeth’. That’s what she called her mouth full of silver fillings that were all placed in while she was under general anesthetic …. at the age of four years.

 

You could easily blame a highly processed, sugar-rich diet for these issues but another friend of mine, who is as strict with what she feeds her children as I am (that is, they eat a very low sugar, wholefoods diet) … was devastated when her 7 year old recently had to get fillings.

 

I don’t know if it’s luck, genetics or diet that has resulted in my two sons escaping tooth decay so far – they seriously are an anomaly among their friends and part of me wonders when their luck will change.

 

I’m digressing a little here but I simply can’t get over the rate of tooth decay in young kids in the town I live in. It’s terrible!!!

 

But is fluoride in drinking water the answer?

 

I’m on a mission to find out and share my findings with you.

 

In this three-part series on fluoride in drinking water I’ll be chatting to both an acclaimed dentist and toxicologist on the issue.

In this first interview, where I’m chatting with Dr Agim Hymer from First Bite Dental, we discuss:

  • When are why fluoride was first added to drinking water.
  • How tooth decay issues have changed over time (from ancient times to the early 1900s and beyond) and how decay rates decreased by 60% after the addition of fluoride to drinking water.
  • Why the caries (i.e. cavities or tooth decay) rate in the general population is currently increasing.
  • The extreme difference in issues in patients presenting to dental surgeries in towns where the water is not fluoridated compared to those where the water is fluoridated.
  • The portion of the population where tooth decay issues are most concentrated.
  • How our hospital system is struggling at its current capacity and could not cope with an influx of tooth decay issues in children if fluoride is removed from drinking water.
  • The links between mouth infections and heart disease and other conditions including pneumonia, low birth weight babies and premature babies (that our medical system is struggling to address)
  • Just why the World Health Organisation has listed water fluoridation as one of the top ten health initiatives that benefits the general population.
  • Why people who floss, brush and who eat a good wholefoods, low-sugar diet are not immune to tooth decay (hint: it’s got something to do with genetics!)
  • Why Dr Hymer believes the mass medication argument against fluoride in drinking water is invalid
  • The fluoride concentrations in drinking water, toothpaste, mouth rinse, gels and dental fluoride treatments.
  • And more!

 

Dr Hymer presented the following reasons and background information on dental care, to support his belief that water fluoridation IS in the best interest for the general population:

  • The benefits of fluoride in preventing tooth decay were discovered in the mid 1900’s. There were towns in America where the people in the town had fewer cavities than those in neighbouring towns. What they realised was that the water supply in those towns had a high fluoride content, and it was present in the water supply naturally.
  • When you eat food you create acidity in your mouth. This acidity starts to de-mineralise the tooth and actually starts to break it down. If fluoride is present in your mouth it enters the tooth and forms a harder compound than what you originally had because fluoride is now part of the molecules of the tooth.
  • Death by dental disease was in the top five causes of death in the early 1900’s, whereas it’s almost unheard of now in Australia.
  • Caries (tooth decay) rates decreased by approximately 60% following the fluoridation of water supplies.
  • The caries rate is currently increasing due to people’s diets becoming poorer with excess consumption of sugar in addition to people drinking more bottled (unfluoridated) water.
  • The World Health Organisation lists fluoridation of water as one of the top ten initiatives that is of benefit to the population.
  • When it comes to teeth, the people with the biggest problems are the lowest socio economic groups. It tends to be these groups that have the worst diets. Their parents may not understand or prioritize good oral hygiene. They don’t spend the time with their child to brush their teeth twice a day and make sure that they are given a really good diet.
  • Our governments are constantly struggling with the hospital system. They just can’t afford to keep pumping more money into it and nobody is prepared to pay more taxes to put more money into the system either. Unless you have something that to some extent, protects the general population, then you’ve got the issue of filling up the hospital system with children requiring fillings and teeth extractions, due to the fact that you can’t treat children in a dental chair, you have to put them to sleep. That takes up a lot of hospital time and expenses. Can the government afford to put little kids and adults to sleep and deal with the large influx that would occur if fluoride were to be removed from the water supply? The public system has no money for dental and it doesn’t matter what government comes into play, as they have all been talking about it. They just don’t have the funds to go and fix the people’s teeth. So that’s where fluoride does play a part.
  • Mouth infections can cause other health implications including heart disease, pneumonia, low birth weight babies and premature babies. So mouth disease causes so many other medical problems that the hospital system can’t afford. For example, if an adult has a mouth infection they’re more likely to have heart disease. Now if someone has a heart attack, that is at least $100,000 on the public purse just admitting them into hospital.
  • Most cases of mottled teeth occurred when people were taking fluoride tablets and no one really knew the dosage. That dosage was much higher than the water supply. But at one part per million (the concentration of fluoride in the water supply), the research shows that for the general population that concentration has more benefits than risks.
  • Children’s toothpaste (which should be used up until around Grade 2) contains half the amount of fluoride than regular toothpaste. The issue with children is they not only brush their teeth, they also eat the toothpaste and that’s not a good thing to do because then they are increasing their ingested fluoride dose. You want a child to brush, rinse and spit, but they don’t do that, they eat it! That’s why companies have halved the fluoride content. After around 7 years of age a child can use normal toothpaste because they are more capable of spitting and rinsing.
  • You can choose to avoid fluoride in drinking water by filtering the water or drinking bottled water, but that’s more expensive, and an environmental issue in itself. So there are choices to stay away from fluoride.
  • The biggest issue is sugar. If people take out all the sugar from their diets then we really don’t have too many tooth problems. However, people on a low sugar diet who practice good oral hygiene can still develop cavities due to acidic saliva, which may be a genetic issue.

 

This issue is definitely a complex one and it’s about to get more complex because in the next episode, Part 2 of the feature on fluoride in drinking water, I’m chatting with toxicologist, and former Associate Professor and leading researcher in Health and the Environment at Murdoch University, Dr Peter Dingle, who will share his reasoning why fluoride should be removed from our drinking water supply.

I’m all about presenting balanced information to you so you can make up your own mind and have put together a fabulous freebie on fluoride in drinking water which is available for you to download here. In this guide I’ve summarized all the findings from this 3-part feature, including arguments both for and against water fluoridation, plus the best ways you can remove fluoride from your drinking water should you choose to filter your supply.


Laura

Laura

Laura Trotta is one of Australia’s leading home sustainability experts. Fusing her professional expertise as an environmental engineer with the down-to-earth pragmatism that comes from being a busy mum, Laura is an eco thought leader who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Laura