Last week one of my blogs focused on mammography. My objection here, in a nutshell, is that it seems this practice has been presented to women as a no-brainer, when in reality it has a number of important downsides that put quite a dent in the arguments for mammography that many of us will be all too familiar with. The real problem here is that the problems associated with mammography are not generally communicated to women, who therefore not in a position to make an informed choice about whether to attend for screening or not.
Women do generally seem to be put under considerable political pressure to have mammography, but on the plus side, they can’t actually be forced to attend (at this time, anyway). So, should a women feel strongly enough that she doesn’t want to have a mammogram, then she doesn’t have to have it.
I was thinking about this concept of informed consent while reading this morning about a story that concerns the fluoridation of water. While, again, some individuals present water fluoridation as a no-brainer, there is indeed plenty of reasons to be wary of it. For a start, the most comprehensive analysis of the effects of water fluoridation revealed that it helped prevent dental decay in approximately one in six individuals, while it causes dental damage (dental fluorosis) in about one in two.
On top of this, we have the fact that fluoride is a potentially toxic substance, and has been linked with diverse adverse effects on health. For more on this, see here.
As with mammography, proponents often seem less than keen to provide a balanced view on fluoridation by informing individuals of the potential problems associated with the practice.
The story I was reading this morning concerns Southampton, a city on the south coast of England, UK. The Strategic Health Authority in the area (South Central Strategic Health Authority – SCSHA) has essentially compelled the water company in the area to add fluoride to the water supply. Before this, though, the SCSHA put the proposal out for consultation. Of the 10,000-odd people who expressed an opinion, almost three-quarters opposed the introduction of fluoridation. But the SCSHA is now compelling to the relevant water company to do it anyway.
There’s an obvious problem here, isn’t there? What’s the point of putting something out to for public consultation if, then, you’re going to simply ignore the wishes of the majority of those individuals? This is hardly democracy in action.
So, now, whether they like it or not, 200,000-odd people have no choice but to have fluoridated water piped into their homes. Claims that fluoride can prevent tooth decay mean that it essentially being used here as a medicament. So, what we have here is a situation where individuals are being mass-medicated (without their consent, remember). The administration of this medication will not, obviously, taken into account need or past medical history. And also the dosage will not be specific by a doctor or dentist: it will be dictated by individuals themselves, and depend on how thirsty they are.
Taking all of this into account, then it’s difficult, I think to make a case for water fluoridation on public health grounds. With this in mind, then it seems reasonable to consider whether there is any evidence that the practice of water fluoridation has been pushed at us (and even forced on us) as a result of commercial and political influence and agenda. For more on this, see this video featuring Christopher Bryson, a former BBC producer and author of the book The Fluoride Deception.