Anti-fluoride campaigners often promote dental health programmes which they argue are alternatives to community water fluoridation. But seem not to understand that these programmes usually include fluoride dental treatments.
It’s probably a result of some tactical thinking – “let’s promote a positive message to overcome the publicly perceived negativity associated with our opposition to a social health policy like fluoridation.” In fact, some New Zealand anti-fluoride activists have specifically expressed it this way.
But the sting in the tail of this tactic is their promotion of the idea these programmes are an alternative to community water fluoridation (CWF). In reality, they are not genuine about their positive support of a social health policy – they still want to convey a message of opposition to CWF by pretending these policies are successful alternatives.
These programmes may be successful – but they are not alternatives to CWF. Health authorities promoting them usually see them as complementary to CWF – certainly not substitutes or alternatives. In fact, these dental health programmes usually include fluoride varnish treatment for children’s teeth.
An example is the “Healthy Teeth, Happy Smile” programme reported as being very successful in the UK city of Leicester. See City with worst tooth decay in children sees marked improvement). It aims to improve the dental health of young children and includes exercises like supervised tooth brushing in nurseries and linking families up with dentists.
The image above shows the first page of a leaflet about the scheme. Notice that it encourages fluoride varnishing of the teeth of young children and offers this free (the image below shows the relevant detail from the leaflet) and yet Fluoride Free New Zealand, the local anti-fluoride group, is promoting it!
The Leicester City Council in its promotion of the scheme lists the following actions for parents:
- take your child to see the dentist before they are one and go regularly
- brush your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears
- brush at least twice a day
- don’t rinse after brushing just spit the toothpaste out
- use a fluoride toothpaste
- ask your dentist about fluoride varnish
- limit sugary drinks and snacks to meal times only.
The scheme is based on the Oral Health Promotion Strategy for pre-school children which describes its objectives as:
- Optimising exposure to fluoride
- Gain multi-partnership support in order for everyone to play a role in improving oral health
- Improve preventive and routine dental attendance
- Improve parental skills on caring for children’s oral health
So hardly an alternative to fluoride or CWF.
I have written about other dental health programme which anti-fluoride activists misleadingly promote as alternatives to CWF before.
The Nexo programme on Sweden – Fluoridation: Open letter to Democrats for Social Credit;
The Scottish ChildSmile programme – ChildSmile dental health – its pros and cons and ChildSmile – a complement, not an alternative, to fluoridation.
I have also made the point that in New Zealand the different District Health Boards often have dental health programmes which incorporate elements of all the three programmes discussed here. They are not run as alternatives to CWF – although some health boards do put extra resources, such a fluoride tooth varnishing into the non-fluoridated areas. For obvious reasons.
Examples are the Mighty Mouth Dental programme run by Counties Manukau District Health Board and the Healthy Smile, Healthy Child programme run by the Ministry of Health and the New Zealand Dental Association.
Whether or not health authorities choose to give their dental health programmes catchy titles such programmes are important. CWF is not a magic bullet and oral health is also served by complementary programmes like these which incorporate education, early training in the use of toothbrushes, connecting families with dentists and use of fluoride varnishes.
Just don’t be fooled into thinking such programmes are substitutes or alternatives to CWF. Especially don’t be fooled by activists who are not seriously promoting dental health but simply attempting to fool people by pretending such programmes could be used instead of CWF.
Featured image: DW Design.