Tag Archives: debate

Why is it so difficult to get an open discussion on fluoridation?

Yes, I know – everyone’s mind is already made up so participants just talk past each other. People’s positions on this and similar issues have become a matter of identity – people are driven by emotions, not information.

But, the information is there – and while I agree many people are driven by emotions they often attempt to use that information to support their positions. In a sense, the information acts as a proxy for their real driving force – their emotions.

Nevertheless, I have always considered a good-faith scientific exchange on issues like this is possible. I believe the exchange I had with Paul Connett, a US anti-fluoride campaigner, four years ago was a good example of what is possible (see Fluoride Debate or download Connett & Perrott (2014) – the pdf document of the exchange).

So, I always look for the chance to repeat that discussion – and I thought that might happen with my recent articles discussing the Mexican maternal prenatal urinary F/child IQ study. Why, because my recent article Paul Connett’s misrepresentation of maternal F exposure study debunked got a response from Mary Byrne, National Coordinator of Fluoride Free New Zealand. I posted her article as Anti-fluoride group coordinator responds to my article.

I responded to that with Mary Byrne’s criticism is misplaced and avoids the real issues and again I offered her a right of reply.

But no response. In fact, she refuses to answer any of my emails.

OK, I can take a hint – but then I see her claiming on Facebook (see image above) that SciBlogs would not allow this discussion! Would not allow “exposure to both sides!” This is patently untrue and she is completely misrepresenting SciBlogs and me.

Note: SciBlogs is a collection of New Zealand science bloggers. My science-oriented blogs usually appear there by syndication.

The email exchange

So it is worth actually looking at the email exchange where Mary requested publication of her article and we responded. Please note the dates and times and excuse the low magnifications. Here are the emails in sequence:

11 March, 12:51 pm: Mary Byrne requests SciBlogs publish her response to my article.
11 March, 1:06pm: After internal passing on the email, Peter Griffin sends it to me.

Pretty quick service. Remember this was a Sunday.

My response was also pretty quick (considering I usually have my daily power nap at that time). I didn’t have to do much thinking about the issue (please excuse my verbosity).

11 March, 2.11 pm

Mary Byrne did not reply so I went ahead anyway and interpreted the original request to mean that a right of reply post on my blog was acceptable. Her article was posted on Tuesday, March 13 (I already posted on Monday and like to spread posts throughout the week) – Anti-fluoride group coordinator responds to my article. I emailed Mary to let her know her article was posted and I would respond to it.

I posted my promised response to her article on Wednesday, March 14th – Mary Byrne’s criticism is misplaced and avoids the real issues and sent Mary an email to let her know – once again offering her another right of reply.

So, Mary’s claim of SciBlogs not allowing exposure from both sides is completely false.

Incidentally, I have emailed Mary asking her to correct that misrepresentation. She has ignored my email, as she ignored all the other emails I have sent her about this issue. The misrepresentation is still on the Fluoride Free NZ Facebook page.

So, I do not expect Mary to continue this exchange, unfortunately. And I do regret she has chosen to misrepresent the situation in the way she has.

But I guess it is just another case of misrepresentation by an anti-fluoridation activist.

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Mary Byrne’s criticism is misplaced and avoids the real issues

Image credit: BuildGreatMinds.Com

First, thanks to Mary Byrne and FFNZ for this response (see Anti-fluoride group coordinator responds to my article). Hopefully, this will help encourage some good faith scientific discussion of the issues involved in my original article (Paul Connett’s misrepresentation of maternal F exposure study debunked). I am pleased to promote such scientific exchange.

I will deal with the issues Mary raised point by point. But first, let’s correct some misunderstandings. Mary claimed I am a “fluoride promoter” and had “sought to discredit the study via his blog posts and tweets.”

  1. I do not “promote fluoride.” My purpose on this issue has always been to expose the misinformation and distortion of the science surrounding community water fluoridation (CWF). I leave promotion of health policies to the health experts and authorities.
  2. I have not “sought to discredit the study.” The article Mary responded to was a critique of the misrepresentation of that study by Paul Connett – not an attack on the study itself. This might become clear in my discussion below of the study and how it was misrepresented.

The study

The paper we are discussing is:

Bashash, M., Thomas, D., Hu, H., Martinez-mier, E. A., Sanchez, B. N., Basu, N., … Hernández-avila, M. (2016). Prenatal Fluoride Exposure and Cognitive Outcomes in Children at 4 and 6 – 12 Years of Age in Mexico.Environmental Health Perspectives, 1, 1–12.

Anti-fluoride activists have leaped on it to promote their cause – Paul Connett, for example, claimed it should lead to the end of community water fluoridation throughout the world! But this is not the way most researchers, including the paper’s authors, see the study. For example, Dr. Angeles Martinez-Mier, co-author and one of the leading researchers,  wrote this:

1. “As an individual, I am happy to go on the record to say that I continue to support water fluoridation”
2. “If I were pregnant today I would consume fluoridated water, and that if I lived in Mexico I would limit my salt intake.”
3.  “I am involved in this research because I am committed to contribute to the science to ensure fluoridation is safe for all.”

Was the reported association statistically significant?

Mary asserts:

“Perrott claims that the results were not statistically significant but his analysis is incorrect.”

That is just not true. I have never claimed their reported association was not statistically significant.

I extracted the data they presented in their Figures 2 and 3A and performed my own regression analysis on the data. This confirmed that the associations were statistically significant (something I never questioned). The figures below illustrating my analysis were presented in a previous article (Maternal urinary fluoride/IQ study – an update). These results were close to those reported by Bashash et al., (2017).

For Fig. 2:

My comment was – “Yes, a “statistically significant” relationship (p = 0.002) but it explains only 3.3% of the variation in GCI (R-squared = 0.033).”

For Fig 3A:

My comment was – “Again, “statistically significant” (p = 0.006) but explaining only 3.6% of the variation in IQ (R-squared = 0.0357).”

So I in no way disagreed with the study’s conclusions quoted by Mary that:

” higher prenatal fluoride exposure, in the general range of exposures reported for other general population samples of pregnant women and nonpregnant adults, was associated with lower scores on tests of cognitive function in the offspring at age 4 and 6–12 y.”

I agree completely with that conclusion as it is expressed. But what Mary, Paul Connett and all other anti-fluoride activists using this study ignore is the real relevance of this reported association. The fact that it explains only about 3% of the IQ variance. I discussed this in the section The small amount of variance explained in my article.

This is a key issue which should have been clear to any reader or objective attendee of Paul Connett’s meeting where the following slide was presented:

Just look at that scatter. It is clear that the best-fit line explains very little of it.  And the 95% confidence interval for that line (the shaded area) does not represent the data as a whole. The comments on the statistical significance and confidence intervals regarding to the best-fit line do not apply to the data as a whole.

Finally, yes I did write (as Mary quotes) in my introductory summary that “the study has a high degree of uncertainty.” Perhaps I should have been more careful – but my article certainly makes clear that I am referring to the data as a whole – not to the best fit line that Connett and Mary concentrate on. The regression analyses indicate the uncertainty in that data by the low amount of IQ variance explained (the R squared values) and the standard error of the estimate (about 12.9 and 9.9 IQ points for Fig 2 and  Fig 3A respectively).

The elephant in the room – unexplained variance

Despite being glaringly obvious in the scatter, this is completely ignored by Mary, Paul Connett and other anti-fluoride activists using this study. Yet it is important for two reasons:

  • It brings into question the validity of the reported statistically significant association
  • It should not be ignored when attempting to apply these findings to other situations like CWF in New Zealand and the USA.

Paul Connett actually acknowledged (in a comment on his slides) I was correct about the association explaining such small amount of the variance but argued:

  • Other factors will be “essentially random with respect to F exposure,” and
  • The observed relationship will not be changed by the inclusion of these other factors.

I explained in my article Paul Connett’s misrepresentation of maternal F exposure study debunked how both these assumptions were wrong. In particular, using as one example the ADHD-fluoridation study I have discussed elsewhere (see Perrott, 2017). I hope Mary will refer to my article and discussion in her response to this post.

While ignoring the elephant in the room – the high degree of scattering, Mary and others have limited their consideration to the statistical significance and confidence intervals of the reported association – the association which, despite being statistically significant, explains only 3% of the variation (obvious from the slide above.

For example, Mary quotes from the abstract of the Bashash et al., (2017) paper:

“In multivariate models we found that an increase in maternal urine fluoride of 0.5mg/L (approximately the IQR) predicted 3.15 (95% CI: −5.42, −0.87) and 2.50 (95% CI −4.12, −0.59) lower offspring GCI and IQ scores, respectively.”

I certainly agree with this statement – but please note it refers only to the model they derived, not the data as a whole. Specifically, it applies to the best-fit lines shown in Fig 2 and Fig 3A as illustrated above. The figures in this quote relate to the coefficient, or slope, of the best fit line.

Recalculating from 0.5 mg/L to 1 mg/L this simply says the 95% of the coefficient values, or slopes, of the best fit lines resulting from different resampling should be in the range  -10.84 to -1.74 CGI (Fig 2) and -8.24 to 1.18 IQ (Fig 3A).

[Note – these are close to the CIs produced in my regression analyses described above – an exact correspondence was not expected because digital extraction of data from an image is never perfect and a simple univariate model was used]

The cited CI figures relate only to the coefficient – not the data as a whole. And, yes, the low p-value indicates the chance of the coefficient, or slope, of the best-fit line being zero is extremely remote. The best fit line is highly significant, statistically. But it is wrong to say the same thing about its representation of the data as a whole.

This best-fit line explains only 3% of the variance in IQ – and a simple glance at the figures shows the cited confidence intervals for that line simply do not apply to the data as a whole.

The misrepresentation

That brings us back to the problem of misrepresentation. We should draw any conclusions about the relevance of the data in the Bashash et al., (2017) study from the data as a whole – not just from the small fraction with an IQ variance explained by the fitted line.

Paul Connett claimed:

“The effect size is very large (decrease by 5-6 IQ points per 1 mg/L increase in urine F) and is highly statistically significant.”

But this would only be true if the model used (the best-fit line) truly represented all the data. A simple glance at Fig 2 in the slide above shows that any prediction from that data with such a large scatter is not going to be “highly statistically significant.” Instead of relying on the CIs for the coefficient or slope of the line, Connett should have paid attention to the standard error for estimates from the data as a whole given in the Regression statistics of the Summary output. – For Fig. 2, this is 12.9 IQ points. This would have produced an estimate of “5-6 ± 36 IQ points which is not statistically significantly different to zero IQ points,”  as I described in my article

Confusion over confidence intervals

Statistical analyses can be very confusing, even (or especially) to the partially initiated. We should be aware of the specific data referred to when we cite confidence intervals (CIs).

For example, Mary refers to the CI values for the coefficients, or slopes, of the best fit lines.

Figs 2 and 3A in the Bashash et al., (2017) paper include confidence intervals (shaded areas) for the best fit lines (these take into account the CIs of the constants as well as the CIs of the coefficients). That confidence interval describes the region of 95% probability for where the best-fit line will be.

Neither of those confidence intervals applies to the data as a whole as a simple glance at Figs 2 and 3A will show. In contrast, the “prediction interval” I referred to in my article, does. This is based on the standard error of the estimate listed in the Regression statistics. Dr. Gerard Verschuuren demonstrated this in this figure from his video presentation.

Mary is perfectly correct to claim “it is the average effect on the population that is of interest” – but that is only half the story as we are also interested in the likely accuracy of that prediction. The degree of scatter in the data is also relevant because it indicates how useful this average is to any prediction we make.

Given the model described by Bashash et al., (2017) explained only 3% of the IQ variance, while the standard error of the estimate was relatively large, it is misleading to suggest any “effect size” predicted by that model would be “highly significant” as this ignores the true variability in the reported data. When this is considered the effect size (and 95% CIs) is actually “5-6 ± 36 IQ points which is not statistically significantly different to zero IQ points,”

Remaining issues

I will leave these for now as they belong more to a critique of the paper itself (all published papers can be critiqued) rather than the misrepresentation of the paper by Mary Byrne and Paul Connett. Mary can always raise them again if she wishes.

So, to conclude, Mary Byrne is correct to say that the model derived by Bashash et al., (2017) predicts that an increase of “fluoride level in urine of 1 mg/L could result in a loss of 5-6 IQ points” – on average. But she is wrong to say this prediction is relevant to New Zealand, or anywhere else, because when we consider the data as a whole that loss is “5-6 ± 36 IQ points.”

I look forward to Mary’s response.

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Anti-fluoride group coordinator responds to my article

Image credit: Debate. The science of communication.

My recent article Paul Connett’s misrepresentation of maternal F exposure study debunked got some online feedback and criticism from anti-fluoride activists. Mary Byrne, National coordinator Fluoride Free New Zealand, wrote a response and requested it is published on SciBlogs “in the interests of putting the record straight and providing balance.”

I welcome her response and have posted it here. Hopefully, this will satisfy her right of reply and help to develop some respectful, good faith, scientific exchange on the issue.

I will respond to Mary’s article within a few days.


Perrott wrong. New US Government study does find large, statistically significant, lowering of IQ in children prenatally exposed to fluoride

By Mary Byrne, National coordinator Fluoride Free New Zealand.

While the New Zealand Ministry of Health remains silent on a landmark, multi-million-dollar, US Government funded study (Bashash et al), and the Minister of Health continues to claim safety based on out-dated advice, fluoride promoter Ken Perrott has sought to discredit the study via his blog posts and tweets.

Perrott claims that the results were not statistically significant but his analysis is incorrect.

The conclusion by the authors of this study, which was published in the top environmental health journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, was:

In this study, higher prenatal fluoride exposure, in the general range of exposures reported for other general population samples of pregnant women and nonpregnant adults, was associated with lower scores on tests of cognitive function in the offspring at age 4 and 6–12 y.”

Perrott states the study has “a high degree of uncertainty”. But this contrasts with the

statistical analysis and conclusion of the team of distinguished neurotoxicity researchers from Harvard, the University of Toronto, Michigan and McGill. These researchers have written over 50 papers on similar studies of other environmental toxics like lead and mercury.

RESULTS: In multivariate models we found that an increase in maternal urine fluoride of 0.5 mg/L (approximately the IQR) predicted 3.15 (95% CI: −5.42, −0.87) and 2.50 (95% CI −4.12, −0.59) lower offspring GCI and IQ scores, respectively.

The 95% CI is the 95% Confidence Interval which is a way of judging how likely the results of the study sample reflect the true value for the population. In this study, the 95% CIs show the results are highly statistically significant. They give a p-value of 0.01 which means if the study were repeated 100 times with different samples of women only once could such a large effect be due to chance.

Perrott comes to his wrong conclusion because he has confused Confidence Intervals with Prediction Intervals and improperly used Prediction Intervals to judge the confidence in the results. A Prediction Interval is used to judge the confidence one has in predicting an effect on a single person, while a Confidence Interval is the proper measure to judge an effect on a population. In epidemiological studies, it is the average effect on the population that is of interest, not how accurately you can predict what will happen to a single person.

Despite the authors controlling for numerous confounders, Perrott claimed they did not do a very good job and had inadequately investigated gestational age and birth weight.

Once again Perrott makes a fundamental mistake when he says that the “gestational period < 39 weeks or > 39 weeks was inadequate” and “The cutoff point for birth weight (3.5 kg) was also too high.”

Perrott apparently did not understand the Bashash paper and mistook what was reported in Table 2 with how these covariates were actually treated in the regression models. The text of the paper plainly states:

“All models were adjusted for gestational age at birth (in weeks), birthweight (kilograms)”

Thus, each of these two variables were treated as continuous variables, not dichotomized into just two levels. Perrott’s criticism is baseless and reveals his misunderstanding of the Bashash paper.

Perrott states that the results are not relevant to countries with artificial fluoridation because it was done in Mexico where there is endemic fluorosis. But Perrott is wrong. The study was in Mexico City where there is no endemic fluorosis. Furthermore, the women’s fluoride exposures during pregnancy were in the same range as found in countries with artificial fluoridation such as New Zealand.

The study reports that for every 0.5 mg/L increase of fluoride in the urine of the mothers there was a statistically significant decrease in average IQ of the children of about 3 IQ points. It is therefore correct to say that a fluoride level in urine of 1 mg/L could result in a loss of 5 – 6 IQ points. This is particularly relevant to the New Zealand situation where fluoridation is carried out at 0.7 mg/L to 1 mg/L and fluoride urine levels have been found to be in this range2.

There is no excuse for Health Minister, David Clark, to continue to bury his head in the sand. This level of science demands that the precautionary principle be invoked and fluoridation suspended immediately.

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New fluoride debate falters

Characters debate the “fluoride conspiracy” in Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove

What is it with these anti-fluoride campaigners – and particularly their leaders? They make a song and dance about having “science on their side.” They will heavily promote the latest research and papers if they can argue that they confirm their bias. And they will email politicians or make submissions to local bodies making scientific claims – often with citations and long lists of references.

But we simply can not get them to enter into a good faith scientific discussion of the sort I suggested in Do we need a new fluoride debate?

I thought this was going to happen. Bill Osmunson, the current Direct of the Fluoride Action Network (FAN), had agreed and even produced an initial article for posting. But he has now pulled out and asked me not to post his article. Apparently, my critique of a recent paper by him and his colleagues from FAN (see Flaw and porkie in anti-fluoride report claiming a flaw in Canadian study) was the straw that broke the camels back as far as he was concerned.

Talk about tiptoeing around a discussion partner. How can one have a discussion with someone this sensitive?

Excuses, excuses!

This is the explanation he gives for his withdrawal from the planned exchange:

“I have second thoughts about a discussion with you.  Do not publish my comments.*

After reading your comments in response to Neurath, it became obvious that you have no interest in discovering the truth or protecting the public.  Nor do you have reasonable judgment to evaluate research.

You do have good mechanical skills, but not judgment.

You correctly take weaker arguments and point out they are weak.  But you do not comment or appreciate the main more powerful issues.  Your comments make it sound like there is no value because some points have lower value.  Only a person who carefully rereads McLaren and Neurath, and then your comments understands some of your points are valid and you have missed others which are powerful.

In addition, you use derogatory, unprofessional mocking terms to attack the person instead of the issues.  I’m not interested in being your porky or sparky or pimp.

You are unprofessional and are not worth the time.”

  • The “comments” Bill refers to are a 55-page pdf file he sent me as the first post in our exchange. We were discussing a shorter form more suitable for a blog post when he decided to back out.

Mind you, in a previous email he had acknowledged that his mates (presumably in FAN) were unhappy about him participating in this good-faith scientific exchange. He wrote:

“Several people have told me not to respond to you, because you are unprofessional with your statements and comments.  You attack the messenger instead of the message and you have such severe bias and faith in fluoride that you must have worked for the tobacco companies to learn your strident blind bias.  
OK, I gave you a try once before and found you to be violent with your personal attacks and lack of judgment.”
 Sounds like “excuses, excuses,” to me. Surely I am not such a horrible person? I asked Bill to identify anything in my exchange with Paul Connett (see The Fluoride Debate) where I had behaved in the way he charged. He couldn’t. And I challenge anyone else to identify such behaviour on my part in that exchange.

Bill Osmunson and his mates claim I behaved badly in this exchange with Paul Connett – but they refuse to give a single example

 I can only conclude that the people at FAN are unable to provide good scientific arguments to support their case. They may well produce documents with lists of citations and references with “sciency” sounding claims. But they will not allow their claims to undergo the sort of critique normal in the scientific community.
Still – I am willing to be proven wrong. if Bill feels that he doesn;t have the scientific background for this sort of exchange perhaps Chris Neurath, Harvey Limeback or one of the other authors from FAN of the article I critiqued in Flaw and porkie in anti-fluoride report claiming a flaw in Canadian study) could take his place.
The offer is open.

Do we need a new fluoride debate?

I think we do. Something like the good faith scientific exchange I had with Paul Connett four years ago (see Connett & Perrott, 2014 – The Fluoride Debate).

After all, there have been a number of important scientific reports since then. They may have been thrashed out (and thrash is sometimes the operative word) in one of the “anti-fluoride” or “pro-fluoride” internet silos but there has yet to be a proper discussion.

I have been trying to get one going for a while. Paul Connett is no longer interested and everyone else on the “anti-fluoride” side seems unwilling. However, Bill Osmunson who recently replaced Paul Connett as director of the Fluoride Action Network has been contributing to the discussion on several of the posts here. He seems to be the obvious choice for a discussion partner and I  asked him if he is willing to participate in another scientific exchange of the sort I had with Connett.

So far he has not responded – but as he has made some relevant critiques of several recent scientific papers in these discussion contributions I think it is relevant to bring that discussion into the formal blog posts. Otherwise, some important points will just be lost because they are buried deep in the discussion threads.

Here I respond to criticisms Bill makes of two recent studies which looked for evidence of the influence of community water fluoridation (CWF) on IQ and cognitive deficits in general. I urge Bill Osmunson to respond to my points in a format which can be presented as a blog post here.

Community water fluoridation and IQ

The two studies were published after my exchange with Paul Connett and are:

Broadbent, J. M., Thomson, W. M., Ramrakha, S., Moffitt, T. E., Zeng, J., Foster Page, L. A., & Poulton, R. (2014). Community Water Fluoridation and Intelligence: Prospective Study in New Zealand. American Journal of Public Health, 105(1), 72–76.

And

Barberio, A. M., Quiñonez, C., Hosein, F. S., & McLaren, L. (2017). Fluoride exposure and reported learning disability diagnosis among Canadian children: Implications for community water fluoridation. Can J Public Health, 108(3), 229.

Broadbent et al., (2014)

This study used data from the Dunedin  Multidisciplinary Health and Development longitudinal study and found no difference in IQ of people in fluoridated and unfluoridated areas or any effect of fluoridated toothpaste or fluoride supplement use.

I hope I represent Bill correctly but his criticisms of this study are vague – I can’t help feeling he is succumbing to the general hostility anti-fluoride campaigners have had about this study.

Let’s deal with his last criticism:

” I have previously presented my reservations about the NZ study and Broadbent’s comparing fluoridation with fluoride supplements, which lacked power to evaluate IQ.”

It more or less encapsulates anti-fluoride criticisms of the study and does contain an element of validity in reference to the study’s “power.” However, Bill’s reference to “power” is far too vague. It needs to be quantified.

Is Bill claiming that there are declines in IQ caused by CWF but they are too small to be detected in a study like Broadbent et al., (2014)? Or was there something about that study which made it incapable of detecting a reasonable IQ decline? Or does it matter – after all someone who is ideologically committed to believing fluoride is bad for IQ can always fall back on this argument when experimental results don’t go their way. No study will realistically have the ability to detect an extremely small IQ change that they might argue for. And such a small change is more in the eye of the (biased) observer than a reality.

Fellow FAN members Hirzy et al., (2016) also argued that the “power” of the Broadbent et al.,  (2014) study was too low to detect their assumed change in IQ. They argued this case on the basis of total dietary intake of fluoride claiming that there was very little difference of total dietary intake between fluoridated and fluoridated areas.  Osmunson et al., (2016) made the same argument – appearing to give up completely on the contribution of CWF (as it “likely represents less than 50% of total fluoride intake”) and directing attention to total fluoride intake instead. However, their arguments are very subjective as they pull dietary data “out of a hat” and don’t deal with the real situation where the study occurred.

Osmunson mentioned the importance of fluoride supplements and fluoride toothpaste to fluoride intake but seemed to have missed the fact that Broadbent et al., (2014) had also included these as factors in their statistical analysis. Neither these factors nor CWF exhibited a statistically significant effect on IQ.

The apparent fallback position of Hirzy et al., (2016) and Osmunson et al., (2016) that the relatively small dietary F intake meant their assumed IQ differences were too small for the study to detect comes across as straw-clutching. Especially as oral health differences between fluoridated and unfluoridated areas were detectable See Evans et al., 1980 and Evans et al., 1984).

The “power” of a study

The “element of validity” I referred to in Bill’s complaint about the “power” of the experiment is one every practical researcher faces – especially when dealing with an existing programme rather than designing, from the ground up, a laboratory experiment. Numbers of participants, or samples, are always limited and researchers rarely have the luxury of the large number they would wish for to provide more “power.”

The “power” of a study is often represented by the  95% confidence interval (CI). This means that if the same population is sampled on numerous occasions and interval estimates are made on each occasion, the resulting intervals would bracket the true  population parameter in approximately 95 % of the cases.” Usually, more sample numbers mean a smaller CI and therefore more confidence in the value of the result.

Broadbent et al (2014) reported a 95%CI of -3.22 to 3.20 IQ points for the effect of community water fluoridation with children of 7 -13 years. (The equivalent CIs for the effects of fluoride toothpaste and fluoride tablets were -1.03 to 2.43 and -0.38 to 3.49 respectively). The observed effects were not statistically different to zero. Their study used just 990 children. If more participants had been available the 95%CI could have been reduced to less than the range of 6.4 IQ points actually found for the effect of CWF.

In a very large Swedish study, Aggeborn & Öhman (2016) included between 20,000 and 80,000 participants and estimated a confidence interval of -0.23 to 0.89 IQ units when fluoride is increased by 1 mg/L. (They were able to consider a continuous measure of fluoride and not simply fluoridated or unfluoridated treatments). This study has far more “power” than that of Broadbent et al., (2014), and therefore a smaller CI value. But the conclusion was the same – fluoride at these concentrations had “a zero-effect on cognitive ability.”

Barberio et al., (2017)

This is a Canadian study with a large representative sample and individual estimates of fluoride exposure and reported learning disability diagnosis. Overall it concluded there was no “robust association between fluoride exposure and reported learning disability diagnosis.”

Bill Osmunson argues that this study “has limitations” and that the “conclusions overstate their data.”

I agree with Bill that diagnosis of learning disability based on a household questionnaire is not the same as a proper professional diagnosis, although presumably the question aimed at finding out if a professional diagnosis had been made – and what it was in some cases. The authors acknowledge that weakness but argue that more objective assessments are probably only feasible in small-scale studies.

Interestingly Bill and his fellow anti-fluoride campaigners did not raise this problem of reliance on parental answers to a questionnaire when they considered and argued strongly for, the Malin and Till (2015) ADHD study. (See  Perrott 2017 – Fluoridation and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – a critique of Malin and Till (2015)for more details of this study and its problems.

Of course, these are the real-world problems faced by researchers attempting to extract useful data from large-scale surveys. One of the reasons why readers should not consider single studies as definitive and should consider each one critically and sensibly.

However, I think Bill is straw-clutching when he quotes the authors:

“When Cycles 2 and 3 were combined, a small but statistically significant effect was observed such that children with higher urinary fluoride had higher odds of having a reported learning disability in the adjusted model (p = 0.03).” [Cycles 1 and 2 are two separate parts – 2009-20011 and 2012-2013 respectively – of the Canadian Health Measures Survey]

And then argues:

“Barberio could have concluded they found harm. Instead, they focused on data which did not show harm.”

Bill is aware that a statistically significant effect of fluoride exposure was observed in only a limited case – when data from two cycles were combined and the urinary fluoride data had not been corrected by using either creatine concentration or specific gravity. This correction is necessary as an attempt to overcome the shortcomings of single spot-samples of urine. As the authors point out “spot urine samples used to measure fluoride are vulnerable to fluctuations.” And :

“creatinine-adjusted urinary fluoride or specific gravity-adjusted urinary fluoride . . .  are thought to be more accurate because they help to correct for the effect of urinary dilution, which can vary between individuals and different points in time. Accordingly, these adjusted measures help to offset some of the limitations associated with spot urine samples. The finding that the effect was reduced to non-significance when creatinine-adjusted and specific gravity-adjusted urinary fluoride were used, suggests that the association between urinary fluoride and reported learning disability diagnosis may not be robust.”

So Bill would prefer that the authors had based their conclusions on uncorrected urinary fluoride data and not the more reliable corrected figures? And why? Because that would have confirmed his bias. That is an unfortunate personal foible – our biases often encourage us to go with unreliable conclusions and not allow them to be challenged by the more reliable data.

Conclusions

Here I have simply considered the Broadbent et al., (2014) and Barberio et al.,. (2017) papers because these are the ones Bill Osmunson has responded to. I urge him, to also consider the Aggeborn and Öhman (2016) paper.

I hope Bill Osmunson will respond to this post with his refutations of my points or further arguments about these and other papers. I hope also that he takes up my offer of space here for an in-depth exchange of the sort I had with Paul Connett four years ago.

References

Aggeborn, L., & Öhman, M. (2016). The Effects of Fluoride In The Drinking Water.

Barberio, A. M., Quiñonez, C., Hosein, F. S., & McLaren, L. (2017). Fluoride exposure and reported learning disability diagnosis among Canadian children: Implications for community water fluoridation. Can J Public Health, 108(3), 229.

Broadbent, J. M., Thomson, W. M., Ramrakha, S., Moffitt, T. E., Zeng, J., Foster Page, L. A., & Poulton, R. (2014). Community Water Fluoridation and Intelligence: Prospective Study in New Zealand. American Journal of Public Health, 105(1), 72–76.

Evans, R. W., Beck, D. J., & Brown, R. H. (1980). Dental health of 5-year-old children: a report from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Child Development Study. The New Zealand Dental Journal, 76(346), 179–86.

Evans, R. W., Beck, D. J., Brown, R. H., & Silva, P. A. (1984). Relationship between fluoridation and socioeconomic status on dental caries experience in 5-year-old New Zealand children. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, 12(1), 5–9.

Hirzy, J. W., Connett, P., Xiang, Q., Spittle, B. J., & Kennedy, D. C. (2016). Developmental neurotoxicity of fluoride: a quantitative risk analysis towards establishing a safe daily dose of fluoride for children. Fluoride, 49(December), 379–400.

Malin, A. J., & Till, C. (2015). Exposure to fluoridated water and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder prevalence among children and adolescents in the United States: an ecological association. Environmental Health, 14.

Osmunson, B., Limeback, H., & Neurath, C. (2016). Study incapable of detecting IQ loss from fluoride. American Journal of Public Health, 106(2), 212–2013.

Perrott, K. W. (20217). Fluoridation and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – a critique of Malin and Till (2015)).  British Dental Journal, In press.

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Debating science

The Science March in Palmerston North. Credit: Erin Wilson, Twitter.

This last week has certainly raised the profile of the “science debate” in New Zealand. Most importantly we saw big turnouts for the Science March in several major cities – a demonstration that lots of scientists and supporters of science feel that science could be threatened – or at least that it is unappreciated by the politicians and other decision-makers. Maybe even by a section of the public.

And at the other end of importance, we saw a childish spat by local anti-fluoride activists who had attempted to use a member of Parliament’s experience of miscarriages to make the scaremongering claim that these were caused by community water fluoridation. Then they attempted to divert attention from the embarrassing (for them) widespread condemnation by promoting, through their own press releases,  the fake news they had organised a “TV debate” on fluoridation with a local scientist.

The Science March

The Science March was many things to many people. I saw it as a general demonstration of support for science and opposition to attempts to discredit science – examples being the science around climate change, vaccinations, evolution – and yes even fluoridation. Some of the media presented it as a demonstration against US president Trump and his policies – and there may have been many in the US Science Marches who had these motivations. But every country and every region have examples where politicians have downplayed scientific evidence or even attempted to discredit that evidence and the scientists who produced it. These sort of struggles went on long before Trump and they will go on after Trump.

For example, in New Zealand, we have some specific issues over water quality and climate change which are quite unconnected to the US and its politicians. We have to fight out those issues here. Scientists, anyway, strongly resist linking their issues to politics and political movements. We have had a few bad experiences from that. This resistance and the silly intervention of identity politics into the organisation of the US Science Marches did make many scientists wary of participation.

But, in the end, the Science Marches around the world had good turnouts and my impression is that participants felt they had been both worthwhile for science and good experiences personally.

Of course, the Science March will not make the problems go away. There is still a need for the day to day struggle on issues like climate change, water and environmental quality and even fluoridation. This is one of the points I attempted to make in my article Trump didn’t invent the problems – and his opponents didn’t invent protest.

Debating science

And this is where a continuing debate around science issues is important. To be clear – I am not using the word “debate” in the formal sense (more on that later) but in its most general sense. And not necessarily debate involving specific contact between adversaries.

Issues about water quality and the environment come up continually in New Zealand. In the media, in local body and parliamentary considerations, and in government statements. A lot of the commentary may downplay the science on the issue or overplay economic and financial aspects. Some of the commentaries may be outright anti-science – or present misinformation, even distortions, about the science. Activist claims about the “dangers” of the use of 1080 to control predator pests are an example.

The misinformation and downplay of scientific information cannot be allowed free passage – it must be challenged. Hence there is a debate – again not a formal debate, but a debate, nevertheless. The public is exposed to various claims and counterclaims via the media and the internet. Regional bodies and parliamentary committees are deluged with submissions and scientists and supporters of science have a role to play there too.

Scientists and supporters of science should not stand aside and let the opposition win by default – simply because they abhor the political process or ego-driven participation in media reports. But they need to choose their battles – and they need to consider the effectiveness or otherwise of different forms of participation in public debate.

Problems with formal debates

So what about formal debates of the sort the Fluoride Free New Zealand (FFNZ – the local anti-fluoride organisation) claimed via their press releases to have organised? A TV debate between New Zealand Scientist Professor Michelle Dickinson from Auckland University, and Dr. Paul Connett – chief guru at the US Fluoride Action Network. This proved to be a kickback from FFNZ, a diversion from the bad publicity that came their way when Dickinson publicly criticised their use of scaremongering tactics in an email sent to a Green member of parliament. Public commenters were disgusted at the FFNZ claim the miscarriages she had suffered were caused by community water fluoridation.

Professor Dickinson pointed out she had not agreed to a TV debate (which FFNZ then childishly used in another press release to claim she had reneged). And Dr. Paul Connett did not even publicly respond – indicating that while the debate challenge had been made in his name he knew nothing about it.

Kane Titchener, the Auckland FFNZ organiser who made the challenge to Michelle Dickinson, is a bit of a Walter Mitty character and often makes debate challenges in Paul Connett’s name, but without his authorisation. These challenges are his way of avoiding the discussion of the science when he is outgunned. He made a similar challenge to me four years ago – I called his bluff and nothing happened. The debate I did eventually have with Paul Connett was arranged through Vinny Eastwood (a local conspiracy theorist who promote anti-fluoride propaganda), not Kane Titchener – who was probably not even in contact with Connett.

But, in general, scientists are unwilling to take part in the sort of formal debates Kane Titchener was proposing. There are often similar challenges made to evolutionary scientists by creationists and religious apologists, and to climate scientists by climate change deniers. Scientists generally feel their opposition make these challenges in an attempt to gain recognition or status they do not deserve. (I think in this particular case Kane Titchener may have naively thought he could use Michelle Dickinson’s connections with TV personalities to get Connett on TV – something he has found impossible on his recent visits to NZ).

Another, more important, reason is that such formal debates are usually more entertainment than information. In fact, debating is a recognised form of entertainment often driven by egos and aimed at ‘scoring points’ which appeal to a biased and motivated audience. They are rarely a way of providing information and using reasoning to come to conclusions – which is the normal and accepted process of scientific discussion.

Good faith discussion

Don’t get me wrong – I am not opposed to all forms of one-on-one “debate” or discussion. These can be useful – especially when the audience is not stacked by biased activists. An exchange of scientific views or information in front of an interested but unbiased audience can be a useful and good experience.

Similarly on-line, written debates or discussion of the sort I had with Paul Connett in 2013/2014 can also be useful (see Connett & Perrott, 2014. The Fluoride Debate). In this format, ego and debating or entertainment skills are less effective. Participants need to produce information – and back it up with evidence, citations or logic. And one’s discussion partner always has the opportunity to critically comment on that information.

I feel that debate was successful – it enabled both sides to prevent information in a calm way without put downs or ego problems. I often use that debate when I want to check out citations and claims. Interestingly, though, Paul Connett behaves as if the debate never happened – claiming that no-one in New Zealand has been prepared to debate him. The FFNZ activists do the same thing. Ever since that debate, I have been blocked from commenting on any anti-fluoride website or Facebook page in New Zealand and internationally. It’s almost as if some sort of Stalinist order went out to treat me like a “non-person.”

A challenge to anti-fluoridation activists

If these activists are so keen on debating the issue then why don’t they allow it to happen? Why do they block pro-science people from commenting on their Facebook pages? Why do they ignore open letters and offers of rights of reply of the sort I sent to Stan Litras and other anti-fluoride activists (see A challenge to anti-fluoridationers to justify their misrepresentation of New Zealand research). Why did Lisa Hansen – the solicitor for the NZ Health Trust who has been making incorrect scientific claims in her High Court cases opposing fluoridation ignore my offer of a right of reply (see Open letter to Lisa Hansen on NZ Fluoridation Review)? Even the “great helmsman” himself, the man who Kane Titchener seems to think will answer all the questions, refuses to respond to offers of right of reply (see Misrepresenting fluoride science – an open letter to Paul Connett).

Why do these people ignore such opportunities?

One thing I noticed about the submission made by opponents of community water fluoridation to the recent parliamentary Health Committee consideration of the Fluoridation Bill was the overwhelming reliance on scientific claims in almost all their submissions. Claims that fluoridation causes IQ loss, fluorosis and a whole host of sicknesses. Many of the submitters actually used citations to scientific journals or attached copies of scientific papers.

These people claim they have science on their side – yet they seem to be extremely shy about discussing that science in any open way. Why is that?

No, it’s not a matter of Walter Mitty types making debate challenges in the name of Paul Connett. Why don’t Kane Titchener, Mary Byrne, Stan Litras, Lynn Jordan (alias Penelope Paisley on Facebook) and similar activists who love to make “authoritative” scientific claims in submissions or behind the protection of a ring-fenced Facebook page or website participate in an honest open debate?

For a start – what about stopping these silly”challenges” in Paul Connett’s name. Then they could remove restrictions on the discussion on the websites and Facebook pages they control.

And, yes, I would be happy for them to participate in good faith scientific discussion in articles on this blog. That is what my offers of the right of reply to my articles were all about.

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Anti-fluoridation activist Paul Connett has a senior moment about our debate

Paul Connett, from  the US anti-fluoride group, the Fluoride Action network, was interviewed today on the Radio new Zealand’s Jesse Mulligan programme. You can listen to the interview at Complaints against anti-fluoride ads not upheld.

jesse

Jesse Mulligan interviewed Paul Connett about his anti-fluoride views

Unsurprisingly, Paul presented the same  tired old arguments against community water fluoridation. And I can understand why he should once again promote his own anti-fluoride book. After all, it has 80 pages of references (most of them broken links to Fluoride Action Network web pages)! And it is surely natural for an author to be proud of their book.

But he seems to suffer from senior moments, or at least memory blocks, when he claims that the arguments in his book have never been confronted. That people refuse to debate with him about these arguments.

Has he really managed to eradicate all memory of our rather long on-line debate about those very arguments? He specifically required that our debate have the format of him advancing arguments from his book and that I would respond to them.

The full debate is available here (see Fluoride Debate) or it can be downloaded as a pdf document (see The fluoride debate). It’s a useful document – about 212 pages long – fully referenced and Paul’s arguments are presented completely unedited – just as he presented them.

I know Paul was unhappy at how the debate went. Since then he has asked me never to contact him again and I was immediately banned from commenting on all the local anti-fluoride websites and Facebook pages. I have also been blocked from commenting on the US Fluoride Action Network’s Facebook page.

OK, I can understand Paul may have felt disappointed with his response to my debunking of his claims – but to pretend the debate never happened?

Interestingly, this is not an isolated behaviour by anti-fluoride activists. Local anti-fluoride people have also made similar claims that no one will debate with them. However, they seem to run quickly in the opposite direction when they do get a response to their offer to debate. Stan Litras is one example where time and time again I have critiqued his anti-fluoride claims and offered him a right of reply. He always refuses but still publicly claims that no one will debate with him.

Paul lost it a bit in his interview today when Jesse mentioned the NZ fluoridation review carried out by the Royal Society of NZ and the office of the Prime mInister’s Chief Science Advisor. He made a few ill-advised disparaging comments which came across as shrill when compared with the explanations from Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Ministers Chief Science Advisor, who was given the opportunity to respond to Paul’s criticisms.

The Interview and Sir Peter’s response is worth listening to. You can download it or listen to it at Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm.

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Misrepresenting fluoride science – an open letter to Paul Connett

Connett Blenheim

A poster for Connett’s Blenheim meeting – scaremongering because there is no proposal for mandatory fluoridation in New Zealand.

A new year and a new speaking tour of New Zealand by US anti-fluoride campaigner Paul Connett. Looking over the presentation he is giving at his New Zealand meetings I find he has absolutely nothing new to say. It’s all been said before – and all his claims have been debunked before.

His visit this year is slightly unusual – the first time I am aware he has visited in winter. Perhaps the local anti-fluoride movement has decided they need to get him early because of the impending introduction of new legislation on community water fluoridation (CWF).

In this open letter to Paul, I respond briefly to the points he makes in his current presentation and will link to a fuller discussion of each point in earlier posts. Many of these links will be to my debate with Paul Connett 3 years ago. You can download the full debate (Connett & Perrott, The Fluoride debate – 2014) or find the individual posts at Fluoride Debate.

Finally, I have offered Paul the right of reply here. I believe that participation in a good-faith discussion is the most scientifically ethical response to my open letter.


Dear Paul,

I wish to challenge claims you made in your 2016 New Zealand speaking tour. Most of these claims were refuted in our 2013/2014 debate but it is worth itemising some of them here because you are continuing to rely on them.

I, of course, offer you the right of reply and access to an open good faith discussion here if you feel I have misrepresented you in any way.

Fraudulent charges of scientific fraud

Fraud claim

From Connett’s 2016 New Zealand presentation

Scientific fraud is an extremely serious offence and accusations should not be made lightly. Yet you have accused New Zealand scientists involved in the Hastings trial of scientific fraud without even citing the study’s reports or publications. You have relied simply on an out-of-context sentence in a letter from a departmental official and unsubstantiated claims about changes in methodology. I pointed this out to you in our 2013/2014 debate  yet you are persisting in this defamation of researchers who are no longer here to defend themselves. You have even gone as far as producing an internationally distributed newsletter entitled “New Zealand Fluoridation Fraud” which was promoted by Fluoride Free NZ activists in this country.

You base your charge of “fraud'” on:

  1. An out of context quote from an internal letter by a director,
  2. Abandonment of Napier as the planned control city at the beginning of the study, and
  3. Alleged changes in the diagnostic procedures used during the course of the trial.

1: A letter from a divisional director expressing his frustration at developing a description “with meaning to a layman” is not evidence of “fraud,” or an attempt to distort the evidence. Scientists are always being urged by officials to make their findings more accessible and understandable to the public.   Your presentation of it as such is equivalent to the 2009/2010 “climategate” misinformation campaign launched by climate change deniers using out-of-context quotes from scientists emails. In that case, we know the real fraud was carried out by those attempting to deny the science and discredit the scientists.

2: Yes, the original plan was to use Napier as a control non-fluoridated city alongside the fluoridated city of Hastings. This was abandoned when data showed a lower incidence of tooth decay in Napier and it was judged unsuitable as a control because of differing soil chemistry which would have introduced an extra confounding factor. While this reduced the Hastings experiment to a longitudinal study, comparisons were made with other non-fluoridated New Zealand cities.

Surely this was a sensible solution to a problem? – and these are always occurring in long-term studies as any researcher familiar with such studies will confirm. Yet, in our debate, you irresponsibly described these reasons as “bogus.” As I said in our debate:

“That is the problem with conspiracy theories – they paint the world black and white which is very unrealistic. I expected far more professionalism from Paul than this.”

This is not the sort of rational assessment expected from a scientific review but sounds more like the declaration of a biased political campaigner.

3:  The diagnostic procedure used in the Hastings experiment were described in the first paper of the series reporting results (Ludwig 1958). Subsequent papers (Ludwig and Ludwig, et al., 1959, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1971) refer to this description and confirm it continued to be used. So where is the evidence for a change in diagnostic procedure?

Yes, there were changes in tooth filling procedures used by New Zealand dental nurses around the time this trial started. But even the anti-fluoride  Colquhoun & Wilson (1999) confirm attempts were made to use a consistent filling procedure in the trial – quoting from a file they received from their Official Information Act request:

“At the commencement of the Hastings fluoridation project steps were taken to ensure that the practice of preparing prophylactic type fillings by dental nurses was discontinued.

Of course, longer term trial like this always have a possibility of technician (or dental nurse) differences and good trial managers attempt to reduced such differences.

Perhaps one way to confirm that such “teething problems” (pardon the pun) did not have an overriding effect is to see that the improvements in oral health measured as differences from the 1954 start were also observed if 1957 was taken as the start (and also for later dates). In our debate I showed this to be a fact using the graphs below.

Hastings data shows similar improvement in oral health even if the project had started in 1957. Plots are for different ages.

Paul, you description of honest research, no matter what its limitations, as fraudulent is irresponsible. Considering your motives for this description and the way you have distorted the situation I would even describe your behavior itself as fraudulent.

Misrepresenting WHO data.

You repeat the same misleading interpretation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) data that we discussed in our debate where you attempted to avoid my criticisms and in the end did not have a sensible response. Despite the refutation, you continue to promote the following misleading graph every chance you get (see also Fluoridation: Connett’s naive use of WHO data debunked):

WHO data

Slide from Connett’s 2016 New Zealand presentation

These data do not support your claim of no difference between the rates of improvement of oral health in fluoridated and unfluoridated countries because there is no attempt to account for all the different factors influencing dental health. Robyn Whyman pointed this out in his report for the National Fluoridation Information Service – Does delayed tooth eruption negate the effect of water fluoridation?:

“Inter-country comparisons of health status, including oral health status, are notoriously difficult to interpret for cause and effect, because there are so many environmental, social and contextual differences that need to be considered.”

It is far more rational to compare regions within countries and you have purposely omitted the WHO data where fluoridated and unfluoridated areas within individual countries were compared.

Here is that WHO data for Ireland which shows a clear benefit in fluoridated areas.

As I said in my post Fluoridation: Connett’s naive use of WHO data debunked:

“I showed this graph to Connett at the beginning of our debate on fluoridation. throughout the next few months he continued to confuse the issue and I kept coming back to it. Finally, he said in his closing statement, “My apologies. I should have checked back.”

An acknowledgment, of sorts, that his use of the WHO data is wrong in his graphs – but he continues to misrepresent it in this way!”

Isn’t it about time you stopped promoting this invalid and misleading use of the WHO data?

Nexo and ChildSmile are complimentary to CWF – not alternatives

Nex and CS

From Paul Connett’s 2016 New Zealand presentation.

You are being disingenuous in promoting oral health programmes like the Danish Nexo and Scottish ChildSmile programmes, as “alternatives” to community water fluoridation (CWF). Health authorities do not see them as alternatives – more as possible complimentary social programmes. The British Dental Association supports both the Scottish ChildSmile programme and CWF. In Scotland it has come out publicly called for communities to move towards introducing water fluoridation. In the absence of CWF, UK health professionals see ChildSmile as “the next best thing – a rather expensive substitute for the fluoridation schemes that have never been introduced.”

I discussed the ChildSmile programme in my article ChildSmile dental health – its pros and cons and in our debate (see Fluoride debate: Ken Perrott’s closing response to Paul Connett?). It, and the Nexo programme, use approaches of child and parent education, toothbrushing supervision and programmes, and  health education initiatives based principally on public health nurses and health visitors attaching themselves to particular schools in order to give oral health advice to children and parents. Subject to parental consent, they also arrange for children who are not registered with a dentist to undergo check-ups and, if necessary, treatment.

Both programmes also provide regular fluoride varnishes for children’s teeth (so much for being an alternative to fluoride).

The point is that elements of these programmes are probably already incorporated into the social health policies of many countries. They certainly are in New Zealand. The introduction of a social health policy like CWF does not mean that programmes like the Nexo and Childsmile, or elements of them, are abandoned by health authorities. The research still shows that CWF reduces tooth decay even when other programmes like this, the use of fluoridated toothpaste and restriction of sugar consumption are practiced (see for example Blinkhiorn et al., 2015).

Interestingly, though, because sometimes programmes like tooth varnishes are targeted at the more vulnerable children in non-fluoridated areas these may lead to difficulties in drawing conclusions from simple comparison of fluoridated and unfluoridated areas. I discussed this in my article on mistakes in one of John Colquhoun’s  papers – Fluoridation: what about reports it is ineffective? – where children from non-fluoridated areas received preferential fluoride varnishing.

There is no single “silver bullet,” for solving the problem of tooth decay so why not use programmes like CWF and Childsmile/Nexo, or elements of the these, together?

In fact, that is exactly what is happening in New Zealand.

Asserting CWF out of step with the science

You claim:

“A better guide as to what nature thinks about the safety of fluoride is the level found in mother’s milk.”

This is simply weird, a naive example of the naturalistic fallacy.

Nature doesn’t think – such an arguments could be used against everything humanity has done to ensure that we have a better quality and length of life than “offered by nature.” As I pointed out in our debate, we are used to other elements being deficient in mothers milk and therefore requiring supplementation (see also Iron and fluoride in human milk for discussion of an evolutionary perspective vs a naive appeal to nature).

Your assertion:

“in mammals not one single biochemical process has been shown to need fluoride to function properly”

is simply deceptive – knowingly so. Fluoride may not play a biochemical role but it does play a chemical one. It is a normal and natural component of bioapatites – bones and teeth. And when present in optimum amounts confers strength and low solubility. Surely as a chemist you are familiar with the fact that minerals like apatite usually do not occur in the ideal form, as end members of a chemical series. In practice, no bioapatites are “fluoride-free.”

I demonstrated the difference between real world apatites and the ideal end members in our 2013/2014 debate using this figure. As a chemist this should be obvious to you.

apatite-2

In the real world bioapatites like bones and teeth always contain fluoride as a normal and natural constituent. The end members hydroxylapatite and fluoroapatite are not real models for natural bioapatites.

You claim that:

“With fluoridation: the chemicals used are not pharmaceutical grade but contaminated waste products from the phosphate fertilizer industry.”

But none of the chemicals used in water treatment, or the water itself, are of  “pharmaceutical grade.” Water plants and water treatment have their own grading system for the chemicals used.

In fact, comparing the certificated concentrations of contaminant elements in fluoridating chemicals used with the same contaminants already in the source water, we find that fluoridating chemicals are not a real source of contamination. We should be more concerned about the source water itself. I presented data to show this in my article Chemophobic scaremongering: Much ado about absolutely nothing. In most cases contamination from the fluoridating chemical is less than 1% of the contaminant concentration already in the source water.

Your reference to “contaminated waste products” is simply naive (or dishonest since you have chemical training) chemophobic scaremongering

Misrepresenting facts on dental fluorosis

dental fluorosis

Paul Connett cites an irrelevant figure in his 2016 New Zealand presentation.

Your claims regarding dental fluorosis are presented as an argument against CWF and in that context are very misleading:

1: The deceit of not identifying contribution from CWF.

Your slide refers to all forms of dental fluorosis and to all areas – fluoridated and fluoridated. It is very misleading to infer that CWF is responsible for a dental fluorosis prevalence of 41%  of dental fluorosis. In fact, CWF makes only a small contribution – often not detectable as was the case with the New Zealand Oral Health survey illustrated below (see Dental fluorosis: badly misrepresented by FANNZ).

Unfortunately, even the recent Cochrane Fluoridation Review (Iheozor-Ejiofor et al., 2015) mistakenly presented the dental fluorosis data without differentiation between fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas. My calculations from their data indicated tyhe prevalence of dental fluorosis due to CWF is more like 7% – much less than your 41% (see  Cochrane fluoridation review. III: Misleading section on dental fluorosis).

2:  Scaremongering by not differentiating between mild and severe forms.

Your 41% sounds scary – especially with the implication it is caused by CWF. But at least your acknowledge that the prevalence of more severe forms is much less. That is obvious from my figure above and from your later slide acknowledging a 3.6% prevalence of moderate and severe dental fluorosis in American teens.

This figure from the National Research Council review shows that CWF (which usually uses a concentration of 0.7 ppm) does not contribute at all to severe dental fluorosis.

Severe-dental-fluorosis

Usually only the moderate and severe forms of dental fluorosis are considered of aesthetic concern – and the milder forms are often judged favourably by parents and teenagers.

What you did not say is that CWF does not contribute at all to moderate and severe forms. These forms are completely irrelevant to the discussion of CWF and it is dishonest to use it as an argument against CWF. Again, my calculation from the Cochrane data indicates the contribution of CWF to dental fluorosis of aesthetic concern was within the measurement error.

If you are really concerned about dental fluorosis, and especially the more severe forms of aesthetic concern, you should be paying attention to high natural sources of fluoride in some regions, industrial pollution and the possibility of obsessive consumption of toothpaste by children.

Brain damage?

Brain

Wild claim by Connett in 2016 New Zealand presentation. There is absolutely no evidence that CWF is harmful to the brain.

Paul, you have been uncritically dredging the scientific literature for articles you can use to imply fluoride is toxic or a neurotoxicant. Of course you will find studies supporting your bias that you can cherry-pick. A similar uncritical dredging will produce far more articles showing water is toxic! Such confirmation bias is scientifically unethical. We should always read the scientific literature intelligently and critically.

Applying a bit of objectivity we see that almost all the studies you rely on use exposure levels far greater than the recommended levels for CWF. Many of the animal studies considered exposure 50 to 100 times those levels or more. The quality of many of the research reports you rely on is not good – a point I think you have acknowledged in the past.  The human studies you rely on have, almost without exception, involved regions of endemic fluorosis quite unrepresentative of regions where CWF is used (I discuss the two exceptions below). None of them properly considered relevant confounding factors.

The exceptions

You promote Malin and Till (2015) as evidence that CWF causes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). You have made no critical assessment of that study. If you had you would have found that when relevant confounders like altitude, poverty and home ownership are included there is not statistically significiant relation of ADHD prevalence with CWF. I demonstrated this in my article ADHD linked to elevation not fluoridation. Coincidentally, the importance of altitude was confirmed in another study which you completely ignore. That study is:

Huber, R. S., Kim, T.-S., Kim, N., Kuykendall, M. D., Sherwood, S. N., Renshaw, P. F., & Kondo, D. G. (2015). Association Between Altitude and Regional Variation of ADHD in Youth. Journal of Attention Disorders.

Unfortunately, the scientific literature is full os such inadequate studies where confounding factors are ignored. Great for confirming biases but, by themselves, absolutely useless if we want to get to the truth.

Peckham et al., (2015) is another example you use. They claimed a relationship of hypothyroidism with CWF but refused to include iodine deficiency (a well established cause of hypothyroidism) in their statistical analysis.

Studies from areas of endemic fluorosis

You extract a lot of mileage out of the studies by Xiang and his coauthors (eg Xiang et al., 2003) – and they are probably the better studies in your collection. But even here your confirmation bias leads you to draw unwarranted conclusions. I showed this in my articles Connett fiddles the data on fluorideConnett & Hirzy do a shonky risk assesment for fluoride and Connett misrepresents the fluoride and IQ data yet again.

For example you claim (correctly) that Xiang found a statistically significant correlation of IQ with urinary fluoride. But a dispassionate consideration of the data shows this relationship explains only 3% of the variance in IQ. I suggest to you that inclusion of some relevant confounders in the statistical analysis would probably cause the correlation with urinary fluoride to be non-significant. This parallels the situation reported by Malin and Till (2015) for ADHD (and here they were able to explain over 20% of the variance in prevalence of ADHD by fluoride – before inclusion of confounders like elevation when the explanatory power of fluoride disappeared).

You have from time to time acknowledged the poor quality of the reports you rely on regarding fluoride and IQ but have said that “there must be something in it” because there are so many reports. There may well “be something in it” but you will not make progress by jumping to your ideologically motivated conclusions favouring chemical toxicity. Just think about it. Those studies occurred in areas of endemic fluorosis – where skeletal fluorosis and severe dental fluorosis are common. It is reasonable to expect such disfiguring and disabling diseases may impact the quality of life, learning ability and IQ of inhabitants. I suggested this mechanism for explaining the data in my article Severe dental fluorosis and cognitive deficits.

CWF is never used in areas of endemic fluorosis so such an effect on cognitive abilities would not occur. And that is consistent with the existing studies which do not show and IQ deficits resulting from CWF (see, for example, Broadbent et al., 2014 and my article IQ not influenced by water fluoridation).

Paul, you are disingenuous to pose the question in your presentations:

“What primary studies (not self-serving government reviews) can you cite that allow you to confidently ignore or dismiss all the evidence of fluoride’s potential to damage the brain?”

We must remember that this is posed in the context of your campaign against CWF and there is no primary study, or review, indicating “potential damage to the brain” from CWF. When you assert “Over 300 studies have found that fluoride is a neurotoxin” you are relying on animal studies where high concentrations of fluoride were used and poor quality studies from areas of endemic fluorosis. None of the studies you rely on are relevant to CWF. It is simply unprofessional scaremongering to promote these sort of political messages:

neurotoxin

Scaremongering slide from Connett’s 2016 New Zealand presentation

I demonstrated in my article Approaching scientific literature sensibly how such uncritical dredging of the literature is meaningless. A Google Scholar search for  produced 2,190,000 results for water toxicity but only 234,000 for fluoride toxicity. So let’s paraphrase your question:

“What primary studies (not self-serving government reviews) can you cite that allow you to confidently ignore or dismiss all the evidence of  water’s potential to damage the body?”

Misrepresentation of evidence supporting CWF

Randomised control trials

Again you raise the red herring of the lack of randomised controlled trials (RTCs) showing CWF effective. As I pointed out to you in our 2013/21014 debate  there is also a lack of RTCs showing CWF not effective – and that must surely tell you something. Simply there are no RTCFs on the subject (although there are on other forms of fluoride delivery like fluoridated milk – see Stephen et al., 1984).

The fact is that such trials are practically impossible with social health measures like CWF. The American Academy of Pediatrics comments in their article on the Cochrane Fluoridation Review:

“it would be a logistical nightmare to try creating a public water system that pumps fluoridated water to the first house on the block, delivers non-fluoridated water to the following two houses and then provides fluoridated water to the 4th and final house on that block.”

This was acknowledged by the Cochrane Reviewers in their discussion. Your mate, and fellow member of the Fluoride Action Network leading body, Bill Osmunson, argues that such an RTC is possible. But his description of how it would be setup shows he is not really serious. He suggests that housing developments be built with several different water reticulation systems and houses be attached to these different systems by flipping coins!

There are some areas of investigation, such as drug efficacy, where RTCs are possible and ethical – but social health measures like CWF is not one of them. That does not prevent an objective analysis of all others sorts of investigation and data which enables health authorities and decision makers to make reliable decisions on such issues.

The Cochrane Fluoridation Review

Paul, I am shocked that with your scientific training you resort to a complete misrepresentation of the recent Cochrane Fluoridation Review (Iheozor-Ejiofor et al., 2015):

Cochrane 1

Connett misrepresented the findings of the Cochrane Fluoridation Review in his 2016 New Zealand presentations

Surely you are not that naive? The reviewers had selection criteria for inclusion of studies in their calculations. This excluded most modern cross-sectional  studies – on the basis of unavailability of data before CWF was started – not quality as you imply. Those restrictions meant they were unable to draw conclusions on the factors  in your slide – but they were discussed, and the studies cited, in the discussion section of the review. These non-selected studies do show that CWF is beneficial to adults (Griffin et al., 2007Slade et al., 2013), provides benefits even when fluoridated toothpaste is considered (see Water fluoridation effective – new study and Blinkhorn et al., 2015) and reduces social inequalities (Riley et al., 1999). The research also shows tooth decay increases when CWF is stopped (see Fluoridation cessation studies reviewed – overall increase in tooth decay noted and Mclaren & Singhal 2016).

How is it that you ignore the language in the review referring to limitations imposed by its selection criteria and then present their qualified conclusions as if they were facts. Can you not understand sentences like?:

“Around 70% of these studies were conducted before 1975. Other, more recent studies comparing fluoridated and non-fluoridated communities have been conducted.We excluded them from our review because they did not carry out initial surveys of tooth decay levels around the time fluoridation started so were unable to evaluate changes in those levels since then.”

Why did you persistently ignore the qualifications in their conclusions imposed by their selection criteria expressed in the common phrase?

“We found insufficient information . . . “

And, why did you purposely ignore the specific conclusion:

“Our review found that water fluoridation is effective at reducing levels of tooth decay among children. The introduction of water fluoridation resulted in children having 35% fewer decayed, missing and filled baby teeth and 26% fewer decayed, missing and filled permanent teeth.We also found that fluoridation led to a 15%increase in children with no decay in their baby teeth and a 14%increase in children with no decay in their permanent teeth.”

Yes, that was followed by the disclaimer “These results are based predominantly on old studies and may not be applicable today.” But that only means the reviewers could not draw specific conclusions about today because they had excluded modern studies.

You have purposely ignored the issues around study selection and presented their inability to draw conclusions as evidence that there is no effect. That is not a scientific assessment of the review – it is a blatantly propagandist exercise in cherry picking motivated by an ideological position. An exercise in public relations, not proper scientific assessment.

Topical vs systemic

I think one change that did come out of our debate is that you now tend to qualify you claims about the systemic and topical roles of fluoride in preventing tooth decay. You use words like “primary” and “predominantly.” But you still confuse the issue by arguing that topical action is quite separate from ingestion when you ask”

“If fluoride works primarily on the outside of the tooth why swallow it?”

The fact is that fluoride, calcium and phosphorus in dental plaque and saliva (to which the CDC attributes the topical action of decay prevention) occur through ingestion of these nutrients in food and water. It is naive to separate the reaction at the tooth surface from ingestion of food and beverage.

You also ignore completely the evidence that ingested fluoride plays a beneficial systemic role with developing and so far unerupted teeth (see Ingested fluoride is beneficial to dental health and Cho et al., 2014).

And let’s not forget about our bones which benefits from appropriate amounts of fluoride in our diet (see Is fluoride an essential dietary mineral? and  Yiming Li et al., 2001)

Use of PR techniques – You are the guilty party

I have shown here how you have distorted and misrepresented the science around CWF. In doing so you are behaving as an ideologically driven lobbyist – not an objective scientist. You are not intelligently and critically assessing the scientific literature – you are cherry-picking and selectively quoting to promote your own agenda.

Personally, I think this sort of behaviour is unethical for a scientist. Sure, we all have our biases and beliefs and this can influence our interpretation of the literature. But you are consistently misrepresenting the science – and continue to do so even after you have been shown wrong.

Perhaps this is unsurprising considering you are essentially a political lobbyist campaigning against a social health policy. You lead a lobby organisation – the Fluoride Action Network. This organisation receives finance from the “natural”/alternative health industry – most publicly from Mercola. According to tax returns you and other members of your family, personally receive monthly payments from these funds.

It hypocritical for you, then, to disparage honest scientists and their publications in the way you have done regarding the Hastings project. Your bias (and refusal to deal with the science) comes out in your description of scientific reviews and papers as “dummy reviews,” “bogus,” “self-serving government reviews,” etc.

In one of your final slides you claim the alleged PR tactics by scientists:

“Would not be necessary if science was on the promoters’ side – but it is not.”

In fact, it is you that are on the wrong side of the science and that is why you resort to misrepresentation, distortion, fear mongering and slander.

You also claim:

“After 6 years there has been no detailed or documented response to our book The Case Against Fluoride.”

And

“Proponents will very seldom agree to publicly debate either myself or other leading opponents of fluoridation.”

Yet, isn’t that exactly what I did in our Fluoride Debate of 2013/2014? And didn’t I give a platform on my blog for you to make all your points and to present the arguments from your book?

And isn’t it a fact that in most forums where your lobby against CWF you, in fact, lose because the scientific arguments against you prevail? You make a big thing of every single victory you achieve against CWF but are silent about the larger number of losses.

As we are discussing the refusal to debate let’s be honest. Your organisations, internationally and locally, attempt to prevent supporters of science from involvement in their discussion forums. I personally have been banned from all local anti-fluoride forums and from the Fluoride Action Networks Facebook forum.

This suggests to me that neither you nor your supporters are willing to take part in a good-faith discussion of the science around CWF. You are simply behaving like a political and commercial lobbyist – not a scientist for whom such discussion should be welcome.

Nevertheless, once again I offer you a right of reply to my comments in this article. In fact, I would happily welcome such a reply as this would be in the best traditions and interests of the science.

References

I have included only citations where links were not available.

Ludwig, T. G. (1958). The Hastings Fluoridation project I. Dental effects between 1954 and 1957. New Zealand Dental Journal, 54, 165–172.

Ludwig, T. G. (1959). The Hastings fluoridation project: II. Dental effects between 1954 and 1959. New Zealand Dental Journal, 55, 176–179.

Ludwig, T. G. (1962). The Hastings fluoridation project III-Dental effects between 1954 and 1961. New Zealand Dental Journal, 58, 22–24.

Ludwig, T. . (1963). Recent marine soils and resistance to dental caries . Australian Dental Journal, 109–113.

Ludwig, T. G. (1965). The Hastings fluoridation project V- Dental effects between 1954 and 1964. New Zealand Dental Journal, 61, 175–179.

Ludwig, T. G. (1971). Hastings fluoridation project VI-Dental effects between 1954 and 1970. New Zealand Dental Journal, 67, 155–160.

Ludwig, T. G.; Healy, W. B.; Losee, F. L. (1960). An association between dental caries and certain soil conditions in New Zealand. Nature, 4726, 695–696.

Ludwig, T.G.; Healy, W. B. (1962). The production and composition of vegetables in home gardens at Napier and Hastings. New Zealand Dental Journal, 58, 229–233.

Ludwig, T.G.; Pearce, E. I. F. (1963). The Hastings fluoridation project IV – Dental effects between 1954 and 1963. New Zealand Dental Journal, 59, 298–301.

Xiang, Q; Liang, Y; Chen, L; Wang, C; Chen, B; Chen, X; Zhouc, M. (2003). Effect of fluoride in drinking water on children’s intelligence. Fluoride, 36(2), 84–94.

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Debating fluoridation and tyranny – Tom O’Connor responds

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Individual consent – what does it mean and how is it obtained?

This article below is a guest contribution from Tom O’Connor responding to my article Attempting a tyranny of the minority on fluoridation. I invited Tom to discuss the issue here, and offered him a right of reply because I think there is value in discussing the points he raised in his Timaru Courier opinion piece and  that I critiqued in my article.

Unfortunately, in this issue, the scientific arguments are very often a proxy for underlying values issues, at least on the part of opponents of fluoridation. It is in the nature of values issues that there is no “correct” answer (in contrast to arguments about facts). Nevertheless, the values issues are important so I hope they can be developed in discussion here around Tom’s original opinion piece and his response here. In the end, such issues are decided by democratic and political means so open discussion of the issues is important.


Firstly I am not opposed to the use of fluoride to combat tooth decay per se. Nor do I have any “anti-fluoride mates” as you put it. If the government wants to make fluoride freely available there are many ways of doing that without imposing it on everyone.

There are three main elements to the fluoride debate. The first is the efficacy or otherwise of fluoride as a preventative for tooth decay.

The second is the use of reticulated potable water as a means of delivering anything other than clean water to the community.

The third is the issue of mass medication, or mass treatment or mass therapy of people without individual consent and practical convenient and affordable alternatives. Legislating to declare a medical treatment is not a medical treatment simply on the ground that the dose rate is measured in parts per million is one of the most stupid and dishonest things I have ever seen any government do. Many medications are measured in such minute quantities.

The Grey Power Federation objection to the proposed addition of fluoride to potable reticulated water is based on the third element only. We do not have a policy in the first element simply because we do not have the expertise or scientific qualifications to develop such a policy. We have not considered the second element.

That policy has been, in my view, adequately explained in the Timaru Courier opinion piece you refer to. The following comments are therefore mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Grey Power members or anyone else.

Efficacy

As you rightly point out there is probably nothing to be gained in participating in the endless argument between proponents and opponents of fluoride as an oral health treatment. Both sides have accused the other of engaging in pseudo-science and scare mongering. Both are, to some extent, probably accurate and in agreement on that point alone. However, where doubts exist, it is probably better to err on the side of caution.

Reticulated water

Territorial local authorities have the responsibility to provide potable water to their communities where no other sources are available or suitable. The principle responsibility of local authorities, as outlined in the Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand, administered by the Ministry of Health, is to ensure drinking water is as free from all other substances and organisms as possible. Using reticulated potable water to convey anything else, be it medical or not, is contrary to that principle.

The use of chlorine to remove micro-organisms and other pathogens is designed to remove unwanted and potentially unsafe matter from drinking. At the end of that process there is not supposed to be any detectable chlorine. That there often is demonstrates the difficulty of getting the addition of trace elements correct. That is a very different matter to the deliberate introduction of an additional substance which many people don’t want.

Mass treatment and individual consent

This is not the first time mass medication or treatment has been introduced in New Zealand. Iodine deficiency, as a cause for goitre, was discovered in the early 1900s and to address the problem table salt was iodised at up to 80mg of iodine per kilogram of salt in 1938. This was accompanied by an extensive public education programme and there was always un-iodised salt as a practical, convenient and affordable option on grocer shop shelves for those who did not want it.

Suggesting that those who object to fluoride in the water they pay their local authority to deliver can obtain alternative supplies from a community tap or buy it from the supermarket is unacceptable. These options are not possible, practical, convenient or affordable for many people.You may also recall a recent proposal to add folic acid to all bread products as a means of addressing a reproductive issue for women. The public outcry which saw that proposal dropped was not solely based on doubts about the efficacy of folic acid but the fact they many people simply did not want their bread medicated with anything for any reason.

You may also recall a recent proposal to add folic acid to all bread products as a means of addressing a reproductive issue for women. The public outcry which saw that proposal dropped was not solely based on doubts about the efficacy of folic acid but the fact they many people simply did not want their bread medicated with anything for any reason.

There are practical and cost effective methods of providing fluoride for those who want it. Forcing it on those who don’t want it is simply unacceptable in a free society.

Tom O’Connor


I will post a response to Tom’s arguments in a few days. Meanwhile, readers are welcome to make their own arguments in the comments section.

Ken Perrott

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NZ Fluoridation review – Response to Micklen

I welcome open and transparent discussion here so am thankful to Dr Micklen for his response (see NZ Fluoridation review – HS Micklen responds to critique). Unfortunately he is the only author or “peer-reviewer” of Fluoride Free NZ’s report criticising the NZ Fluoridation review to accept my offer of a right of reply to my critiques. A pity, as if any of them think I have got things wrong, and they can support this with evidence, I certainly want to know about it. There are three aspects to Dr Micklen’s reply – dental fluorsis chronic kidney disease and his critique of my letter in the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology –   Perrott (2015). I will deal with these separately.

Dental fluorosis

I appreciate Dr Micklen is unhappy about my criticisms of his article, and my suggestion his comments of dental fluorosis were muddled. I may have been a bit harsh but he has still not responded to my specific criticism that he:

“unfairly attributes the more severe forms [of dental fluorosis] to community water fluoridation (CWF). Consequently he calculates a cost of dental treatment which is wrong.”

The key problem is that Micklen is assuming that all the  medium and severe dental fluorosis can be attributed to CWF, whereas none of it can. Briefly reviewing the argument – the figure below is from the NZ Ministry of Health’s Our Oral Health – the same source Micklen used. My comment on the relevance of the different grades of dental fluorosis was:

“Moderate and severe grades of dental fluorosis are common in areas where fluorosis is endemic, but relatively rare where CWF is used. Occurrences in the latter case, despite the low concentrations of fluoride in treated drinking water, will have other causes – high natural levels in well water, industrial pollution, excessive consumption of toothpaste, etc.”

The important factor is that severe and moderate forms of dental fluorosis are not caused by CWF. CWF can contribute to mild and very mild forms of dental fluorosis but because these are usually judged positively they certainly don’t need expensive veneers – my dentist colleagues advise simple microabrasion usually works. So Micklen was wrong to suggest the cost of cost of veneers (up to $1750 per tooth) should be attributed to CWF because such costs would be encountered in non-fluoridated areas as well. (In fact, if Micklen had calculated costs for such treatment in non-fluoridated areas using the “Oral Health” data in the literal way he did for the fluoridated areas,  he would have found costs to be higher than in non-fluoridated areas! Certainly doesnt’ support his claim but a meaningless result because of the small numbers and large variability).

Chronic kidney disease

Micklen accuses me of  using “a piece of grammatical legerdemain to pretend that I [Micklen] called for CKD sufferers to be warned to avoid tap water, which I did not.” Granted he left himself a way out by actually writing:

“I suspect that most opponents of fluoridation would call for CKD sufferers to be warned to avoid tap water. Possibly the NZ health authorities have done so.”

OK, so its not a direct personal recommendation (perhaps he doesn’t belong to the group of “most opponents of fluoridation”) but a reader could be excused for getting that message and in this context it comes across as “dog whistling.” However I will accept his assurance now that:

” In fact, I am inclined to agree with him [me] that that might be extreme in the present state of knowledge.”

As for questions like: “Does further research on the topic receive any funding priority, for example?” – well this is a round about way of giving the message that it doesn’t. Perhaps he should actually check that out and give some evidence instead of making an unwarranted implication. This tactic of posing unfounded questions to convey an unwarranted message is typical of the approach Micklen and Connett take in their book The Case against Fluoride. I criticised this tactic in my exchange with Paul Connett (see Fluoride Debate). I reject Micklen’s suggestion that:

“Perhaps it would be embarrassing, too, for a government to insist on putting fluoride in the water and then advise a substantial number of people not to drink it – or so one might think.”

That is silly – it is like a conspiracy theory. Why would genuine health authorities refuse to give warnings to a small group of people who might be put at risk from a social health policy that is beneficial to the vast majority? Surely they are used to such situations. I also think he is waxing lyrical with the word “substantial!” The numbers involved would be very small, if any, and such a group would already be advised about a number of risks to them because of their condition and treatments. Micklen also lets his ideological position take over  by drawing the implication from my article that I am saying CWF is “effective and safe – for some.” Far from it. Surely I am saying it is effective and safe for the vast majority (which is what we can expect from a social health policy) and simply recommending (as in all such policies) that the small group of people, if any, who might be at risk should use alternatives. I am actually saying that CWF is effective and safe for at least  the vast majority and that claims to the contrary should be backed up with evidence which should be considered critically

Severe dental fluorosis and cognitive deficits

I thank Dr Micklen for his comments on my letter in the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology – (Perrott 2015). I am pleased he accepts the hypothesis that severe dental fluorosis could explain observations of cognitive deficits is worth considering and  he agreed with the other reviewers the letter was worth publishing. Influence of age I take his point that the poor appearance of teeth may not influence young children (ages 6-8 as in the small the group Choi et al, (2015) studied). However, this is pure speculation on his part and is surely a detail. A detail that should be considered in any planned research incorporating this hypothesis, but not in itself a reason for rejecting the hypothesis out of hand – surely? Unless, of course, he can give evidence to support his suggestion. I notice that he does not support the idea with any citations so suspect the idea is more one of straw-clutching  than a serious suggestion. Actually most, but not all, of the citation I used did indeed refer to work with older children. Some were review papers and did not limit their review to any age group. Aguilar-Díaz, et al., (2011) considered children from 8 – 10 years old, Do and Spencer, (2007) studied 8-12 year olds and Abanto et al., (2012) 6-14 year old children. Chikte (2001) studied three groups: 6, 12, 15 year olds. However, I found a quick literature search showed reports of negative effects of oral defects like tooth decay on the child’s quality of life. Kramer et al., (2013) reported this for ages 2 – 5, Scarpelli et al., (2013) for 5 year olds and Cunnion et al., (2010) for 2 – 8 year olds. So, I suggest on the available evidence the negative influence of severe dental fluorosis on quality of life (and possibly cognitive deficits) is likely to occur even in younger children who have not “reached an age to be self-conscious about their appearance.” I don’t think young children are as immune to social attitudes and personal appearance as Dr Micklen suggests. Does effect depend on how common dental fluorosis is?  Dr Micklen suggests that:

“Since fluorosis was common in the community [the children studied by Choi el., 2015], having the condition would not appear abnormal.”

Again I think he is indulging in straw-clutching, or special pleading. special-pleading-fallacy Clearly medium and severe dental fluorosis is far more common in this Chinese group than in countries like New Zealand which use CWF. In the graph below I compare their data with that for New Zealand and USA. Incidentally, this figure shows why the data from Choi et al., (2012, 2015) should not be used as an argument against CWF – yet that is what Micklen did in his original article. DF---good-and-bad But this does not mean that those children with more severe forms will not stand out against the children with less severe forms. There is always a range of appearances of such defects in a group of children. Some will obviously suffer more than others because of their appearance. If Choi et al., do continue to include detailed analysis of dental fluorosis in their future work on this issue then it will be possible to compare cognitive deficit measurements with dental fluorosis indices in a larger group. Such data will be interesting. However, discussion of details like this is premature. My letter simply raised to idea as an alternative worth considering and encouraged the group to continue including detailed dental fluorosis measurements in future work. I was also concerned that they were not being sufficiently open-minded in their choice of a working hypothesis. I concluded my letter with:

Researchers need to be careful not to limit their possible hypotheses or research approaches. Unfortunately Choi et al. (2014) appear to be doing just this with their plans for a larger scale study targeted only at “fluoride’s developmental neurotoxicity.”

Unfortunately none of this group have yet responded to my letter. So, again, I thank Dr Micklen for his feedback on that letter – and his acceptance of the right-of-reply to my article critiquing the FFNZ report. See also:

References

Abanto, J., Carvalho, T. S., Bönecker, M., Ortega, A. O., Ciamponi, A. L., & Raggio, D. P. (2012). Parental reports of the oral health-related quality of life of children with cerebral palsy. BMC Oral Health, 12, 15. doi:10.1186/1472-6831-12-15 Aguilar-Díaz, F. C., Irigoyen-Camacho, M. E., & Borges-Yáñez, S. A. (2011). Oral-health-related quality of life in schoolchildren in an endemic fluorosis area of Mexico. Quality of Life Research : An International Journal of Quality of Life Aspects of Treatment, Care and Rehabilitation, 20(10), 1699–706. Chikte, U. M., Louw, A. J., & Stander, I. (2001). Perceptions of fluorosis in northern Cape communities. SADJ : Journal of the South African Dental Association = Tydskrif van Die Suid-Afrikaanse Tandheelkundige Vereniging, 56(11), 528–32. Choi, A. L., Sun, G., Zhang, Y., & Grandjean, P. (2012). Developmental fluoride neurotoxicity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(10), 1362–1368. Choi, A. L., Zhang, Y., Sun, G., Bellinger, D., Wang, K., Yang, X. J., … Grandjean, P. (2015). Association of lifetime exposure to fluoride and cognitive functions in Chinese children: A pilot study. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 47, 96–101. Cunnion, D. T., Spiro, A., Jones, J. a, Rich, S. E., Papageorgiou, C. P., Tate, A., … Garcia, R. I. (2010). Pediatric oral health-related quality of life improvement after treatment of early childhood caries: a prospective multisite study. Journal of Dentistry for Children, 77, 4–11. Do, L. G., & Spencer, A. (2007). Oral Health-Related Quality of Life of Children by Dental Caries and Fluorosis Experience. Journal of Public Health Dentistry, 67(3), 132–139. Kramer, P. F., Feldens, C. A., Ferreira, S. H., Bervian, J., Rodrigues, P. H., & Peres, M. A. (2013). Exploring the impact of oral diseases and disorders on quality of life of preschool children. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, 41(4), 327–35. NZ Ministry of Health. (2010). Our Oral Health Key findings of the 2009 New Zealand Oral Health Survey. Perrott, K. W. (2015). Severe dental fluorosis and cognitive deficits. Neurotoxicology and Teratology. Scarpelli, A. C., Paiva, S. M., Viegas, C. M., Carvalho, A. C., Ferreira, F. M., & Pordeus, I. A. (2013). Oral health-related quality of life among Brazilian preschool children. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, 41(4), 336–44.