Categories
Current Affairs

Girl Not Against Fluoride

The CDC (Centre for Disease Control) lists water fluoridation as one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th Century. Today, Dublin City Council will vote on whether to remove fluoride from our water supply, and when they do, it will not be because the CDC or the WHO have changed their mind about fluoridation, or because new and compelling information makes it the only choice. It will be because people who believe in angel healing, homeopathy, and chemtrails, have somehow gained the ability to influence public policy.

It never ceases to amaze me that, in matter of public health, the debate is more often informed by people who believe everything they read on the internet. Celebrities with a cause-du-jour and an audience are given more time and attention than scientists, doctors, or even just people who understand basic chemistry, and realise that not all scientific papers were created equal. It leads to invented medical scandals (such as the disproven MMR autism link), and poor decisions (such as the one the council may make tonight), and it’s really past time that it stopped.

The past few weeks have seen a number of claims made about fluoride, and I’ve been doing my best to counter them with evidence as they’ve appeared. Here are some of the most common issues presented to me every time I post a tweet using the word fluoride.

Is fluoride damaging our health?

In brief, all of the best evidence says no. Dental fluorosis is the most common side effect from fluoridated water, and it is almost always solely cosmetic. Lots of claims have been made about fluoride affecting brain development, affecting IQ, affecting bone growth – and all of these claims just don’t really apply to water fluoridation. Studies which claim to show adverse effects of fluoride are typically using concentrations of fluoride far higher than what is permitted in our water supply, and the concentration in our water supply is monitored. In high concentrations, fluoride absolutely can cause significant health problems, but these concentrations are hundreds of times more than what is currently in our water supply.

What about these countries that don’t fluoridate?

There are lots of reasons that a country may not fluoridate their water. In some cases, it is because they fluoridate alternatives, such as milk or salt (e.g. Germany, Switzerland). In other cases, it is because their water is naturally fluoridated (e.g. France, Argentina, Mexico, and many more). In still more cases, it is because the government has decided to approach dental health in a different way. No countries have yet decided to ban fluoridation because the angels told them it was a form of mind control, although Ireland seems to be teetering on the brink of gaining this dubious title.

This country doesn’t fluoridate, and their dental health is fine. What gives?

Systematic reviews (large studies which look at all of the data available) have concluded that water fluoridation results in a fewer children presenting with cavities, decreased decay, fewer missing teeth, and have concluded that it is responsible for significant cavity prevention across the population. But dental health is not a single point issue – many factors affect dental health, and water fluoridation is just one of them. Countries which have excellent dental health without fluoridation also typically have very robust dental health programs, providing free or inexpensive dental care for children, ensuring that they see dentists regularly, thus keeping the cavities down without fluoride.

More studies have also shown that dental health is highly linked to socio-economic status – in other words, families who cannot afford regular dental care, and do not have it provided for them by the state, tend to have more dental problems. Without fluoridation (and given no alternative), these families are disproportionately affected.

Water fluoridation is not a silver bullet for dental health problems, but without a dental health system which allows equal access to effective care (through school programs, subsidised or free care, etc.), it is one of the best solutions we have. Removing water fluoridation without implementing one or more solid alternatives is a recipe for disaster.

It should be my choice to fluoridate. I don’t approve of mass medication.

The mass medication issue is a tricky one, and like a lot of ethical issues, it is far from black and white. You could argue that a government has a responsibility to protect the health of its people, and that it should provide dental health care to do so (because poor dental health affects many areas of an individual’s life). And many people believe that it would be better if a government provided this through improved dental care system, and I’m inclined to agree. Where that cannot be provided, however, what is a government to do? Fluoride has been shown to help dental health, and if you agree that a government has a responsibility to do its best for the health, life, and wellbeing of its people, shouldn’t they use it?

Mass medication is an ethical dilemma– even if it is shown to benefit people, and cause little or no harm. It is a debate that needs much consideration, but it is a debate that deserves better than scaremongering tactics, false information, and outright lies.

(Edit: 1/10/14 – edited to add some some supporting info: in a 1965 court case, the Supreme Court decided that water fluoridation did not constitute mass medication. The term is inaccurate, and designed to scare people, and used here only because it is the term that will be used most often by those who oppose fluoridation. Water fluoridation is water treatment, not mass medication.)

The fluoride debate is an emotive issue, and because of this, it will probably continue to be controversial. The controversy, however, merely makes it even more important that our politicians do not bow to pressure from scare-tactic groups and appeals to emotion, but decide based on the best available evidence. And that evidence is pretty clear – just ask the WHO, the CDC, the ADA…

My name is Jennifer Keane. I studied at Maynooth University where I was awarded my BSc, and then at the Open University, where I received my MSc. I’m passionate about the truth, about science, and about education. I’m the Girl Not Against Fluoride. I won’t pose in my underwear, but I do have my very own superhero costume. It is my graduation robes, because I am qualified.

 

Categories
Current Affairs

Resignations rejected?

Some time ago, shortly after the publication of Murphy report, I wrote a blog encouraging people to read both the Murphy and Ryan reports, which dealt with institutional child abuse in Ireland. I did so not because they were particularly easy to read (far from it, in fact, since both reports are long, and describe in detail some truly awful abuse of children), but because I thought it was important that the information held in the reports wasn’t ignored. The children who were abused were systematically failed by every person or group who should have been able to help them, from the teachers, to the Gardaí, and even the state – as such, now that the truth has finally been printed, it’s important that it not be swept under the rug, or ignored any more.

With all of the above in mind, I was more than a little surprised to hear the news that Pope Benedict XVI has refused the resignations of two bishops who were a part of the Dublin Archdiocese during the period investigated in the reports, namely Bishops Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field. Both were undeniably involved in the activities discussed in the Murphy report (dealing with complaints, covering up abuses, etc.), as shown by the commission investigating the abuses. Both were fully aware of what they were doing, and the repercussions of it – indeed, Bishop Field was a qualified barrister, and therefore aware of both church and state law regarding abuse. They were subject to considerable public pressure, and eventually compelled to resign in December 2009, in the wake of the publication of the Murphy report, when the extent of the cover-up came to light.

As a result of the decision by Pope Benedict, both men will remain as auxiliary bishops with the Dublin Archdiocese, and will be assigned “revised responsibilities within the diocese”. The fact that they remain auxiliary bishops means that they will be available to administer confirmation in any part of the diocese in the coming year. The notion that men who were involved in the systematic cover up of abuses over a period of decades will be available to help children confirm their role as adults within the Catholic faith is more than a little disturbing – surely men such as these do not provide a good example of what is to be expected of an adult of great faith?

The message sent by this refusal of resignation, and confirmation of their continuing positions within the diocese, is a troubling one. It reaffirms the idea that they did nothing wrong in covering up the abuse, and that, because of an apology that was all but forced out of them, they are fit to continue in their roles. It demonstrates that the Holy See is largely unwilling to take any sort of definitive action against men who are proven to have acted wrongly, and it also begs the question of what exactly one must do to have a resignation accepted?

Now is a time for the members of the church in Ireland, and the Catholic church as a whole, to accept the wrongs that were done, and apologise unreservedly for them. Now is a time where the people who perpetrated the abuses should be removed from their positions, and called to answer for their actions. And now is a time for the Pope to genuinely acknowledge the horrible abuses that children were subjected to, and send a clear message that it will never be allowed to happen again.

Unfortunately, it seems that “now” is not considerably different from 30 years ago, where priests were virtually untouchable in the eyes of the public and the law, where children were branded liars for having the courage to speak out, and where abuse was swept under the carpet and never acknowledged or spoken of.

Caveat-filled apologies and promises of action that never come to bear seem to be all that the Pope and the Church have to offer, and sadly, that’s simply not enough.

Categories
Science

And it continues with a campaign

As a result of my dealings with Boots, and my general attitude toward homoeopathic products, I’ve decided to take a leaf out of the book of the 1023 campaigners in England, and launch a similar campaign here in Ireland. The website for the campaign is now live, and I’d love it if you would all take a look, pass the link on, and consider supporting the campaign.

The reason I’m posting this is twofold – firstly, to let everyone know that the campaign is now starting, and that I need your support, and secondly, to talk a little bit more about why I’m doing it.

I think that everyone should have freedom of choice when it comes to their health. The decisions you make can affect the rest of your life dramatically, so it’s important to make the right ones. With so much advertising, it can be a bit tough to siphon out the useful information from all of the advertisement chaff when it comes to healthcare, so many people turn to their pharmacist for advice. And this is really where the problem starts. You could argue that it is someone’s choice to use homoeopathic remedies, and indeed, it is a choice that we should be free to make. But when that choice is made with incomplete or inaccurate information, then it’s not really a choice at all. Unless your pharmacist is specifically telling you that there is nothing in these remedies at all, then you are not making an informed decision.

Another oft-heard argument is that it’s not doing any harm to anyone to have them on sale, or for people to take them. After all, the placebo effect is a demonstrable phenomenon, and surely if that’s enough, we should leave them be? While I would typically refer these people to a number of cases where people have died unnecessarily due to carers withholding conventional medicine in favour of homoeopathic medicine, in this case, I’m going to look a little deeper.

The relationship between patient and pharmacist or doctor is a delicate thing. The doctor/pharmacist relies on the complete honesty of the patient in order to diagnose or treat correctly, and the patient has to trust the doctor/pharmacist enough in order to be completely honest. When this relationship fails, people are wrongly diagnosed and don’t get better. In order for a placebo drug, such as a homoeopathic medicine to work, the doctor/pharmacist has to lie to the patient. They have to say that it is a real medicine, that will cure what ails the patient. Every doctor and pharmacist would have to agree to treat homoeopathic medicine like a giant “emperor’s new clothes” conspiracy, and simply not mention the fact that there’s nothing in it, and lie to the patient if they ask directly. And when the doctor/pharmacist lies to the patient, that delicate bond of honesty and trust is broken.

In addition, it is often forgotten that the placebo effect is not limited to placebo medicines. For example, when you go to a doctor, and they prescribe you with a conventional medicine, the expectation is that you will get better, so you will experience the same placebo effect, along with the conventional treatment. Again, this relies partly on that bond between doctor/pharmacist and patient – the patient has to believe that the doctor/pharmacist is not lying to them and that the medicine will do them good. To return to a world where doctors and pharmacists lie to patients is to take a massive step backwards in the way we look after ourselves, and it shouldn’t be encouraged. In order for doctors and pharmacists to be honest, they need to let people know that there are no active ingredients whatsoever in the homoeopathic remedies that people are purchasing. Currently, this isn’t happening, and people are spending money on useless remedies.

I hope that, by organising this protest, I’ll be able to show some people that there really is nothing in homoeopathy, and that they shouldn’t waste their money on it. And I hope that I can show Boots that we would rather know the truth about our medicines than be lied to. If you agree, I hope that you’ll join me in the demonstration.