Fluoridation in Calgary
This entry is long overdue. A few weeks back I woke and the first thing I heard coming from my radio was Druh Farrell discussing fluoride and she used the phrase, “Science continues to evolve.”
What a ludicrous thing to hear upon waking. I find the collective scientific literacy in our society to be terrible. Abysmal. Horrifyingly bad. Utterly disturbing.
Science, most certainly, does not evolve in any sense of either word. Science is a process. That process is entirely dependent upon the scientific method. The scientific method is not aimed at specifically proving or disproving a claim, the scientific method provides a way to test hypotheses. Through our observations we can explain what we see and make sense of the claims. This is essential in order for us to understand the world around us.
Stated another way, science doesn’t show up with an axe to grind. Science notices you’ve got a dull axe and explains how it got that way in the first place.
I’ll grant you that there’s a great big world of things out there that we do not understand to this very day. The fact that we don’t know everything means that we need further examination, more studies, continued critical thinking. But here’s where the split between understanding the science and not understanding the science occurs. The facts we observe do not change. We can add more observations, we discover new details, we can find out new avenues to explore, but they are additive to the science at hand, the issue has not evolved. Our understanding on an issue changes when new empirical evidence outweighs previously observed evidence or when the new evidence creates a new explanation for all the observations - both new and old - that have been made.
The scientific argument over municipal water fluoridation is fairly clear and is out in the open. The review made in 1998 for the City of Calgary can still be found online in a 62 page pdf here.
Scientifically speaking, this is an exceptional review. In the roughly 12 subsequent years, the facts and findings still remain supported by data. Our understanding is not complete, however in total the balance of data has not substantially changed.
As far as fluoridation stands, the paper made exceptional recommendations. This paper should form the basis of any further discussion on the issue of fluoridation in Calgary. Let me reiterate - if you have not read and understood this paper (absolute minimally by starting with the summary) then you must first improve your background information to make a sound argument in the fluoridation issue. That paper is that substantially good that it needs to be the starting point.
At no point do I say you have to agree with the findings. Personally, I do agree wholeheartedly with them. However there is sufficient room for dissension and that fact is acknowledged in that very paper itself. It is a strong, well written, inclusive opinion that makes an admirable explanation of the science behind this hot button issue that seems to be eternally floating just under the surface in Calgary. I feel confident enough in the review even after 12 years that I still do not believe there has been any strong evidence which highlights a need to change the fluoridation policy in Calgary.
We made this decision years ago, we need to stick with it for now. We may wish to re-examine concentrations again, we may wish to fund selective health testing, however there was never any evidence strong enough to re-raise this debate now.
Scientifically, the benefits of fluoridation are on a firm foundation and little has changed since 1998. I’m not denying there are studies out there that scientifically ought to be examined further, but they do not tip the scales in what is presented as an all-or-nothing issue. The benefit of fluoridation right now continues to outweigh possible negative effects.
Now, my opinion on a personal level.
In 1989 when fluoridation was approved in Calgary I opposed it. My roommate thought I was off my rocker. My argument at the time was solely that I did not feel that fluoridating water was a cost effective way to resolve dental cavities. I have concerns that we were fluoridating water that I would use to wash my car or water my lawn. I suspected (and believe it would later prove true) that costs presented to the public were unreasonably low-balled and final costs of fluoridation would be higher than spoken publicly.
My argument was not about the safety or the scientific efficacy of fluoridation. I have no qualms about drinking our excellent drinking water then or now. My argument was strictly financial, and in questioning whether drinking water was the most efficient way of distributing fluoride. That argument still stands, but at some point we have to stop being intransigent and look for the best way forward collectively. If we had another plan which was effective and cost efficient waiting in the wings, I’d happily change my mind. We don’t. It’s time to stop arguing back and forth. It’ll cost us much more continually ripping it out and slamming it back in on a three year cycle.
This is an example of Aldermen returning to old, bad habits and it needs to stop if we’re going to have an effective city council.