Fluoridation: Beliefs about safety and benefits

Most people in the US believe  community water fluoridation (CWF) is safe and beneficial. Mork & Griffin (2015) report these  findings from a 2009 health survey in a new paper:

Mork, N., & Griffin, S. (2015). Perceived safety and benefit of community water fluoridation: 2009 HealthStyles survey. Journal of Public Health Dentistry.

Their analysis of the survey data, which had 4,556 respondents, indicated that:

“perceived CWF safety and benefits increased with CWF knowledge, perceived vaccine safety, and income.”

I summarise the reported results in  the following graphs.

Perceived safety

Most (55.3%) of the surveyed people agreed or strongly agreed that CWF is safe. Only 13.2% disagreed or strongly disagreed it was safe and 31.5 % were neutral on the question.

CWF-safe

Effect of information on CWF

However, the proportion of people believing CWF is safe was much higher in the group which had knowledge about CWF – about 70%. On the other hand, 41.3% of people with no knowledge about CWF still believed it to be safe.

CWF-inform

Unsurprisingly, the survey showed that almost half of people who claim childhood vaccination is unsafe also claim CWF is unsafe.

Perceived benefits of CWF

About 73% of the respondents believed that CWF had some benefit (57.3%) or great benefit (15.5%). Only 27% reported that CWF had no benefit.

CWF-benefits

Regression analysis of the survey data showed that perceived CWF safety and benefits increased with CWF knowledge, perceived vaccine safety and income.

Conclusions

These figures suggest that the recent prediction by Paul Connett, Executive Director of the Fluoride Action Network (FAN), that CWF in the US would disappear within 18 months is delusional. He appears to be carried away by FAN’s occasional victories in stopping or preventing fluoridation in local communities. He should take more notice of the overall figures which show increases in coverage of CWF in the USA in recent years.

However, there is still a sizable minority who believe CWF is harmful or has no benefit. Given that slightly over 40% of respondents in this survey reported they had no knowledge about CWF this provides scope for the misinformation and scientific distortions of anti-fluoride activists to have an effect.  There is still a need for oral health professionals, and supporters of evidence-based health policy, to campaign for CWF and counter the misinformation opponents promote.

The authors of this study concluded:

“Although only a minority of the US population perceived CWF as unsafe or providing no benefit to health, perceptions regarding CWF varied by knowledge of CWF and socio-demographic factors. Oral health promotion activities should consider these differing perceptions of CWF among groups to tailor oral health messaging appropriately.”

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