One of the frustrations I have with the fluoridation issue is the refusal of anti-fluoride activists to engage on the science. They will pontificate, but they won’t engage in discussion.
On the surface, one would think there is a difference of opinion or interpretation of scientific issues and that could be resolved by discussion. Yet local anti-fluoride campaigners refuse to enter into discussion. Again and again, I have offered space here to local anti-fluoride campaigners so that they could respond to my articles and they have inevitably rejected the offer. They have also blocked me, and other people discussing the science, from commenting on any of their social media pages or web sites. Even when they, themselves, call for a debate they reject specific responses I have made accepting that call.
So I am left with the only alternative of responding to their claim with an article here – or on a friendly web or blog site. At least that gives me space to present my argument – I just wish I could get some intelligent responses enabling engagement on the issues.
The latest misrepresentation of the science is a claim by the Auckland Fluoride Free NZ Coordinator, Kane Titchener, that “recent research proves fluoridation [is] not needed.“
It repeats the same misrepresentation made by Wellington Anti-fluoride campaigner, Stan Litras, which I discussed in my article Anti-fluoridation cherry-pickers at it again. Kane has either ignored my article, chosen to ignore it or possibly not even understood it.
So here we go again.
“A New Zealand study published in Bio Medical Central Oral Health last month shows dental health improved the greatest extent for children in non-fluoridated areas. There is now no difference in dental decay rates between non-Maori children who live in fluoridated areas and non-Maori children who live in non-fluoridated areas, proving that fluoridation is not needed for children to obtain good dental health.”
Although he doesn’t cite the study (wonder why), his use of two figures from the study show he is writing about the paper:
Schluter, P. J., & Lee, M. (2016). Water fluoridation and ethnic inequities in dental caries profiles of New Zealand children aged 5 and 12–13 years: analysis of national cross-sectional registry databases for the decade 2004–2013. BMC Oral Health, 16(1), 21.
His claim relies on the comparison of data for “non-Māori” children in fluoridated and fluoridated areas. No – he doesn’t misrepresent the data – he just ignores the discussion by these authors of problems with simple interpretation of the data for non-Māori because of the fact it is not ethnically uniform. In particular, he ignores the qualifications they place on the data because of the inclusion in non-Māori of data for Pacifica who have poorer dental health than the rest of this group and live predominantly in fluoridated areas. This, in effect, distorts the data by overestimating the poor oral health for “non-Māori” in the fluoridated areas.
The apparent convergence
The data used in this study were taken from the Ministry of Health’s website. This divides the total population of children surveyed into the ethnic groups Māori, Pacific and “Other.” While the “other’ group will not be completely uniform (for example including Pakeha, Asian, other groups) it becomes far less uniform when combined with the Pacific group to form the non-Māori group.
So, Kane salivates over this figure from the paper especially the plots for non-Māori ethnicities in fluoridated (F) and non-fluoridated (NF) areas.
Yes, that convergence is clear and I can see why Kane is clinging to it – who can blame him. But he completely ignores the warning from the paper:
“It is likely that a substantial driver of this convergence was due to significant changes within the dynamic and heterogeneous non-Māori groups both within and between DHB regions. In effect, the ecological fallacy – a logical flaw whereby analyses of group data are used to draw conclusions about an individual – may be operating within the non-Māori group.”
When the Pacific data is removed (as is the case for the “other” group effectively made up from non-Māori and non-Pacifica) we get the plots below.
Nowhere near as useful for Kane’s confirmation bias and the message he wants to promote. OK – there is still some evidence of convergence from about 2007 on between fluoridated and unfluoridated children. But the graphs do show that community water fluoridation is still having a beneficial effect. And this apparent convergence could be explained by things like the introduction of “hub and spoke” dental clinics after 2004. One problem with this raw data is that children are allocated according to the fluoridation status of the school – rather than their residence. This will lead to incorrect allocation in some cases.
Some data for Pacifica
Just to underline the problems introduced by inclusion of Pacific in the non-Māori group of the study consider the data for Pacifica shown below.
The oral health of Pacifica is clearly poorer than that of the “other” group.
Also, Pacifica make up about 20% of the non-Māori fluoridated group. So they will influence the data for the non-Māori fluoridated group by reducing the % caries free and increasing the mean dmft.
So Kane, like Stan, is blatantly cherry-picking. He is misrepresenting the study – and its author – by ignoring (or covering up) the qualifications regarding the influence of inclusion of pacific in the non-Māori fluoridated group.
Now, I repeat the offer I have made in the past to give a right of reply to both Kane Titchener and Stan Litras. They are welcome to comment here and if they want more space I am happy to give space for separate articles for them in the way I did for the debate with Paul Connett. Now I can’t be fairer than that, can I?
So what about it Stan and Kane? What are your responses to my criticisms of the way you have cherry-picked and misrepresented this New Zealand paper?