Fluoride: safe to drink

Expert medical and scientific conclusions do not seem to matter when emotions are involved

A study by the Food Safety Authority has found there are no health risks for children or adults because of exposure to fluoride in food, beverages and drinking water.

A study by the Food Safety Authority has found there are no health risks for children or adults because of exposure to fluoride in food, beverages and drinking water.

 

The Food Safety Authority has declared there are no health risks for children or adults because of exposure to fluoride in food, beverages and drinking water. The finding, based on two years of research, supports the position of the World Health Organisation on the fluoridation of drinking water and conclusions reached by the Department of Health in 2005.

Based on past experience, the report is likely to be rejected by campaigning groups that oppose comprehensive public health interventions. Expert medical and scientific conclusions do not seem to matter when emotions are involved. Scaremongering about the side effects of inoculations against life-threatening childhood diseases caused a significant fall-off in participation and those illnesses have now re-emerged. A campaign against the mandatory fluoridation of public water supplies gained traction in recent years. Councillors in Dublin, Cork, Laois and Kerry voted to end the practice. A Private Members’ Bill was defeated in the Seanad.

In these charged circumstances, the authority commissioned a study to establish a typical fluoride intake from a combination of food, beverages and treated water. The highest concentrations were found in black tea and fishery products. But the levels detected did not pose a risk to health. It is, however, a toxic substance and an excessive intake can discolour teeth and affect bone density.

Fluoridation of water is not generally practised in Europe. Instead, the mineral is added to salt or milk; it occurs naturally in many foods and is contained in toothpastes. Its use has transformed dental health. Estimates suggest it has reduced adult tooth decay by one-quarter and benefited lower income sectors in particular. Five decades ago, the incidence of youth tooth decay was higher here than in Northern Ireland, where water was not treated. That has changed. People who worry about excessive fluoridation can reduce their own intake by drinking bottled water or by choosing mineral-free toothpaste. They should not seek to deny its proven benefits to others.

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