WHY I CHANGED MY MIND ABOUT WATER FLUORIDATION

John Colquhoun* © 1997 University of Chicago Press
Former Principal Dental Officer (Auckland)

Former Advocate
To explain how I came to change my opinion about water fluoridation, I must go back to when I was an ardent advocate of the procedure. I now realize that I had learned, in my training in dentistry, only one side of the scientific controversy over fluoridation. I had been taught, and believed, that there was really no scientific case against fluoridation, and that only misinformed lay people and a few crackpot professionals were foolish enough to oppose it. I recall how, after I had been elected to a local government in Auckland (New Zealand’s largest city, where I practised dentistry for many years and where I eventually became the Principal Dental Officer) I had fiercely — and, I now regret, rather arrogantly — poured scorn on another Council member (a lay person who had heard and accepted the case against fluoridation) and persuaded the Mayor and majority of my fellow councillors to agree to fluoridation of our water supply.

A few years later, when I had become the city’s Principal Dental Officer, I published a paper in the New Zealand Dental Journal that reported how children’s tooth decay had declined in the city following fluoridation of its water, to which I attributed the decline, pointing out that the greatest benefit appeared to be in low-income areas [1]. My duties as a public servant included supervision of the city’s school dental clinics, which were part of a national School Dental Service which provided regular six-monthly dental treatment, with strictly enforced uniform diagnostic standards, to almost all (98 percent) school children up to the age of 12 or 13 years. I thus had access to treatment records, and therefore tooth decay rates, of virtually all the city’s children. In the study I claimed that such treatment statistics “provide a valid measure of the dental health of our child population” [1]. That claim was accepted by my professional colleagues, and the study is cited in the official history of the New Zealand Dental Association [2].

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