No issue has been more divisive for the Bega Valley in recent months than fluoride.
That council is considering fluoridation of the whole shire’s drinking water supplies as part of service upgrades has drawn a lot of debate – both for and against.
At the heart of the debate lie studies and quoted findings pointing to fluoride’s effect on people’s health.
On one side, the public health measure that covers around 93 per cent of the NSW population and has been in the Bega-Tathra supply since the 1960s is said to have no detrimental health effects at all, with a small concession it can potentially lead to discolouration of teeth.
On the other side, vehement opposition to water fluoridation claims everything from fluoride causing low IQ in children, Down’s syndrome, obesity and even cancer.
Candelo’s Kate Burke has been digging into the evidence trotted out by both sides and this week published a lengthy unbiased review, Sifting through the ‘evidence’: Fluoridation and public health.
Many would know Ms Burke as a renonwed local musician. However, she is also an avid science student, currently studying a Masters in science communication at the Australian National University in Canberra.
She said she was inspired by people like Sir David Attenborough, Carl Sagan and Brian Cox.
“Music is something that feels good for me – science communication is a worthwhile thing to do for my community,” she said.
“I started a science blog last year. I’ve been following this fluoride debate closely, it’s something that really interests me.
“There’s all kinds of sides to this debate and conflicting evidence.
“But not all evidence is equal,” she said.
Ms Burke delved deep into the evidence quoted by the Fluoride Action Network, an international anti-fluoride group that has supporters in local dentists such as Maria Claudianos.
FAN challenges the safety of fluoridation despite reassurances from peak health bodies such as the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Dental Association.
However, Ms Burke said many of the studies relied upon for FAN’s argument are of “low quality” and “not good enough to be used as a basis for public health decisions”.
She said that while many who oppose fluoride do so on the basis of personal choice and belief in the claimed ill effects, having low quality studies as “evidence” in Ms Burke’s mind “undermines their argument”.
“This is why the review of evidence is so important,” Ms Burke said, referring to the NSW Health documentation and report into peer-reviewed science by the Australian government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
“In such divisive issue like this there’s a fear factor and that fear can make it difficult to debate.”
Kate Burke’s report, Sifting through the ‘evidence’, is published on her regional science blog www.raisinscience.com.