Wednesday’s decision that council would be fluoridating the remainder of the shire’s public water supply met with heated debate both inside and outside of the council’s chambers.
There were loud disruptions in the chamber with Mayor Kristy McBain rising on several occasions to ask for respect from the public members. Then, only a few hours later, online forums lit up with support for the decision, but also some anger and consternation.
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However, two dentists would like to see the heat taken out of the debate that has been raging in the local area for many years.
“I am neither anti-fluoride or pro-fluoride,” a South Coast dentist who did not wish to be named said.
“I agree with the scepticism around fluoride, and I agree with environmental controls. I favour the current evidence-based science.”
The man who has been practicing dentistry in the area since the early 1980s has been following the scientific developments carefully, looking at how fluoride is administered and its impacts on human health.
“The science supports the positive impacts on populations who consume fluoridated water from big water supplies,” he said. “Sydney and Melbourne is an example of this.”
He has also been following the debates and public conversations around fluoride, which also have a long history.
“There were conspiracy theories in the ‘50s that fluoridation was a communist plot,” he said.
The South Coast dentist claimed that the dissemination of misinformation fuels much of the debate.
“The anti-fluoride supporters aren’t necessarily wrong,” he said. “But there is a lot of misquoting and exaggeration of the scientific literature.”
Dentist Michael Cahill, who ran a practice in Bega for 27 years, said he supports the council’s decision as a positive step forward.
“I see it as very positive,” he said. “I don’t know what took them so long.”
In his time working in Bega, Dr Cahill witnessed the changes in shire residents’ dental health brought about by what he believes were changes in public water consumption.
“When I began working in the ‘80s, you would rarely see a cavity. In the mid to late ‘90s the incidences of cavities and extractions increased,” he said.
However, rather than fluoride being the issue, Dr Cahill suggested this rise was due to more residents not drinking town water as well as the increased consumption of high-sugar drinks.
He has also noticed an increase in cavities in his current practice with similar factors influencing this rise.
“More people are drinking bottled or filtered water, and many are consuming more soft drinks and sports drinks,” he said.
Dr Cahill said the best way to consume fluoride for good dental health was through the water supply.
“Toothpaste only penetrates the outer layer of the tooth. If fluoride is ingested, it is taken right up through the tooth structure. Putting fluoride in the water supply is the most effective way,” he said.
Dr Cahill has spent many years researching fluoride and its implications on human health. He believes council’s decision is part of broader improvements in public health that is good news for residents.
“People are getting healthier and living longer, and better dental health leads to better medical health.”
The South Coast dentist encouraged people to look at the “bigger picture”.
“This is a something that will protect everybody. It is about community-based health and lowering the costs of dental health to individuals and communities,” he said.
He also said there are more pressing issues regarding public health than fluoride.
“The rising incidence of diabetes and the effects of soft drinks on dental health are more pressing issues,” he said.
“We should be looking more closely at Coca-Cola Amatil [than council].”