Professor Paul Connett, executive director of the American Environmental Health Studies Project, says water and fluoride don't go together. He chats to Mark Story ahead of his visit to Napier.

What are your three primary objections to the compulsory fluoridation of public drinking water?
a) It violates the individual's right to informed consent to medical or human treatment.
b) The evidence that swallowing fluoride lowers tooth decay by a significant amount is very weak.
c) The fluoride ion is toxic and can interfere with many biological processes in the body.

Read more: Chlorine leads to cylinder and pipe leaks being exposed, say Hawke's Bay plumbers
Takapau drinking water standard breach due to false sample

You're soon to be presenting to the New Zealand Government. What does this entail?
I shall present a summary of the scientific evidence that associates fluoride exposure with damage to the brain. I have followed this evidence since 1996 when I first got involved with this matter.

Our local DHB is pro-fluoride. How is it that medical professionals can interpret the science so differently?
First you have to ask how much research the medical professionals have done on this issue. Many are so busy in their own practices. Second, you have to ask if they belong to a government agency or professional body that promotes fluoridation. Bureaucrats know if they question a policy – especially a long-held one – that their future in the agency may be limited. DHBs are essentially at the end of a chain of command which starts with the Ministry of Health, which has been unable to provide an adequate scientific defence of this outdated practice.

Advertisement

Are you against topical application of fluoride, or all fluoride as a supplement to dental health?
Certainly, topical treatments are preferable to swallowing fluoride – and more rational since the benefits are believed to be predominantly topical, even by proponents of fluoridation. While there is little benefit from swallowing fluoride and plenty of evidence that swallowing causes harm, topical treatments make more sense. However, in view of the latest scientific evidence on fluoride's neurotoxic effects at low doses, I think we should now be questioning the use of fluoride in toothpaste. Tooth decay is not caused by lack of fluoride but by a poor diet (too much sugar and not enough nutrients) and poor instructions on dental hygiene. This is exacerbated by poverty. These issues have been successfully addressed by the Childsmile programme in Scotland, which is safer and more cost-effective than fluoridation. One of the huge benefits of this programme is that parents are involved and this will help to reduce the number of severe cases of baby bottle tooth decay, which frequently is the cause of extractions under anesthesia both traumatic for young children and very costly.

Former Children's Commissioner Russell Wills claimed that the debate at its heart is not about science but values. That is, we should "limit personal freedoms for a public good".
That is an opinion and only as valid as the scientific evidence he can produce to demonstrate that the benefits of swallowing fluoride outweigh the risks of swallowing it, i.e. that overall, it is a "public good".
For government officials to force citizens to swallow fluoride with every glass of water they drink when the science of benefit is so weak - and the evidence that fluoride causes harm is getting stronger by the year - is the height of governmental arrogance.

* Professor Connett will speak at the Napier Conference Centre on Wednesday, February 14, at 7pm.