Anti-fluoridation group misinterprets published Australian study

Sept. 8, 2004
Findings support rather than dispel fluoride's proven cavity-fighting properties.

Several well known dentistry professors and published oral health researchers came forward recently to clarify that a recently published Australian study adds only another brick to the solid wall of research supporting the benefits of community water fluoridation.

Their clarification and public statements contradict recent claims publicized in a news release paid for and distributed last month by the New York State Coalition Opposed to Fluoridation (NYSCOF).

"The characterization of the Australian study that emerges from an August 17 news release is off the mark, and just plain wrong," said Howard Pollick, BDS, MPH, a clinical professor with the University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry and the co chairman of the California Fluoridation Task Force. "This anti-fluoridation group's claim that the study supports their opposition to fluoridation is a blatant example of how legitimate science can be distorted by those determined to reach their own conclusions," he said. "The headline wrongly characterizes the study as indicating fluoridation is of no benefit, when the study actually found less tooth decay among 4- to 9-year-olds who had a lifetime use of fluoridated water."

Dr. Pollick's views are echoed by another oral health researcher and pioneer who reviewed the Australian study, Ernest Newbrun, DMD, Ph.D, a professor of Oral Biology, also with the UCSF School of Dentistry. Dr. Newbrun said anyone interested in what science has to say about fluoride's effectiveness should read the Australian study more closely.

Entitled, "Consumption of nonpublic water: implications for children's caries experience," the study was published in the August 2004 edition of Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, and is authored by Jason M. Armfield and A. John Spencer, both faculty members of the dental school at the University of Adelaide in South Australia. In the article's abstract on page 283, the authors explicitly state: "Multivariate modeling revealed a significant positive relationship between deciduous caries experience and consumption of nonpublic water (lacking fluoride), even after controlling for the age and sex of the child, SES (socio economic status) and residential location."

The abstract goes on to conclude: "Recommendations are made for the addition of fluoride to bottled water, especially with regard to the oral health of younger children."

Upon learning how the study he co-authored was misinterpreted in a widely disseminated anti fluoridationist news release, Armfield said he was not surprised. "It was no shock to me, as anti fluoridationists often misquote, misrepresent and misinterpret research findings," he said.

Specifically, Armfield notes that his study's discussion of fluoride's effect on permanent caries experience is considerably more involved than the deceptive press release indicates.

"Their news release accurately states that we found no significant effect of fluoridated water on the permanent caries experience among 10- to 15-year-olds, but neglects to mention that we found significant effect on deciduous caries," said Armfield. "Furthermore, we mention in the report several possible reasons for the lack of an effect on permanent caries. Those include the small number of permanent surfaces in the particular population we studied, some possible unique dietary factors, and a possible halo effect in which the children drinking non-fluoridated water may have benefited from the high number fluoridated products in wide use where they live and attend school."

More significantly, Armfield did find a significant reduction in permanent caries resulting from fluoridation in a separate, earlier study that looked at caries prevalence in 6- to 15-year-old schoolchildren in South Australia and Queensland.

"In that analysis, we not only factored in eruption dates in boys and girls, but also lifetime fluoride exposure based on residential history, to allow for mobility of each individual. We determined that fluoride does indeed have a significant positive effect on permanent caries."

The mischaracterization of the Australian study by a group with an anti-fluoridation agenda illustrates the danger in people believing what they run across on the Internet, according to Tim Collins, DDS, chairman of the California Fluoridation Task Force and director of Oral Health for the county of Los Angeles, Department of Health and Human Services.

"I think this example of nonscientists with a political agenda trying to tell us what a valid study means illustrates why we should always question the sources of information we sometimes glean from the Internet," said Dr. Collins. "Anyone can write and distribute a news release, but not everyone is qualified to interpret scientific findings."

Community water fluoridation enjoys the widespread acceptance and support of the U.S. Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, the American Dental Association, the Delta Dental Plans Association and hundreds of other public and private health and science-based organizations.

"As new fluoridation research gets published, we continue to review all that science says about this issue, and we continue to find nothing to repudiate the overwhelming consensus of researchers the world over that fluoridation is safe, inexpensive and effective," said Dr. Newbrun.

"The sooner fluoridation reaches the roughly one third of American communities not yet fluoridated, the sooner we can begin to address the silent epidemic of dental disease referred to in the Surgeon General report on Oral Health in America," he added.