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Purity of Essence

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So I return from three weeks of travel to learn that our local fluoride controversy continues unabated. To make a long story short, the local assembly voted last fall to stop adding fluoride to the city’s water supply; Juneau is now one of the latest communities to suspend or eliminate such programs, which have been conducted in the US since 1945 and which have been alleged ever since to cause anything from Down syndrome to osteoporosis to lowered IQ’s to rare forms of bone cancer. While the scientific evidence supporting these anxieties ranges from minimal to non-existent, water fluoridation programs — which contributed over the course of the 20th century to substantial reductions in dental caries and tooth loss, and at minimal public expense — seem, to me at least, to be a pretty wise allocation of resources. Most of our local dentists, pediatricians, and public health officials agree, a stance that places them squarely within the mainstream of their respective professions.

I’m no scientician, but I’m quite frankly amazed by all this. I don’t have any particularly strong feelings one way or another on the issue, and as someone whose adult teeth were hideously stained by an excess of fluoride as a child — mostly from (no shit) eating toothpaste — I’m obviously receptive to the argument that fluoridation can have unintended consequences. But the conventional arguments against water fluoridation seem especially unconvincing. True, fluoride is deadly in sufficient quantities, but so is carbon dioxide; and the fact that people who work with undiluted fluoride have to wear protective clothing is irrelevant to the question of whether elevating the fluoride level of water to 1 ppm is an effective public health intervention. And sure, dental caries is most effectively addressed at the level of the individual — but this does nothing more than state the obvious, and it does nothing to take away from the credibility of existing fluoridation programs.

Having said all that, I have to admit this was much more interesting when fluoridation was a communist plot.

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