Here is another post in my series critiquing a PowerPoint presentation of Paul Connett – a leading US anti-fluoridation activist.
Paul prepared this for a meeting in New Zealand Parliament buildings last February. Although only three MPs turned up his presentation is important as it summarises almost all the arguments used by anti-fluoridation activists.
Connett claims NZ data shows fluoridation ineffective
Connett argues the evidence community water fluoridation (CWF) is effective in reducing tooth decay is weak. He covers this in slides 96-110 but in this post I will deal only with the New Zealand evidence he uses (slides 108-110). Paul’s presentation can be downloaded for those wishing to look at it in detail – see Prof Paul Connett Power Point Presentation to Parliament 22nd Feb 2018.
The total New Zealand evidence Connett presents for this is a graphic obtained from his NZ offsiders, Fluoride Free NZ (FFNZ):
We know how unreliable FFNZ is as a source and the data is obviously cherry-picked. But what is the truth? What do the NZ School Dental statistics really say about the oral health of children in NZ?
I have covered this before – FFNZ misrepresentation of the MoH data is an annual event occurring each time the Ministry of Health adds its annual summary of the data to their web pages.
For a change, here is a breakdown and discussion of the 2016 data prepared by Environmental Health Indicators NZ in association with Massey University:
“Children in fluoridated areas generally have better oral health”
“Children living in communities with fluoridated drinking-water generally had better oral health than children living in non-fluoridated communities.
In 2016, around 60 percent of 5-year-olds were caries-free in their primary teeth. Rates were similar in fluoridated communities (60 percent) and non-fluoridated communities (60 percent) (Figure 1).
More Māori and Pacific Island 5-year-olds were caries-free in fluoridated communities than in non-fluoridated communities in 2016. The largest difference can be seen for Māori children.
5-year-olds had on average 1.8 decayed, missing or filled primary teeth in 2016. Children living in fluoridated communities had less decayed, missing or filled teeth than children living in non-fluoridated communities (Figure 2).
This difference is particular large for Māori children. 5-year old Māori children had on average 2.5 decayed, missing or filled teeth in fluoridated communities compared to 3.3 decayed, missing or filled teeth in non-fluoridated communities in 2016.”
I am unable to embed the Environmental Health Indicators NZ graphs, but they are essentially the same I presented in my article Anti-fluoridationists misrepresent New Zealand dental data – an annual event so I reproduce that section of the article below:
What does the new data really say?
Let’s look at a summary of the data – for 5-year-olds and year 8 children – and for the different ethnic groups listed – Māori, Pacific Island and “other”(mainly Pakeha and Asian). You can download the spreadsheets contain the data from the MoH web page – Age 5 and Year 8 oral health data from the Community Oral Health Service. We will look at the % of these children that a free from caries as well as the mean decayed, missing and filled teeth (dmft and DMFT) for each group.
Notice the FFNZ cherry picking? Yes, the “Total” figures show very little difference but if they had dared look at different ethnic groups their argument would not have looked so great. Fluoridation appears to be associated with an improvement of dental health from about 6% (for “Other”) to 23% (for Māori)
Year 8 children
You can see why FFNZ chose the 5-year-olds instead of year 8 children. Even the misleading data for the “Total” group suggests an almost 20% improvement of dental health in fluoridated areas. Fluoridation appears to be associated with an improvement of dental health from about 18% (for “Other”) to 30% (for Māori).
What’s the problem with the 2009 Oral Health Survey?
Anti-fluoride activists love to hate this survey because it concluded:
“Overall, children and adults living in fluoridated areas had significantly lower lifetime experience of dental decay (ie, lower dmft/DMFT) than those in non-fluoridated areas. There was a very low overall prevalence of moderate fluorosis (about 2%; no severe fluorosis was found), and no significant difference in the prevalence of moderate fluorosis (or any of the milder.
“These findings support international evidence that water fluoridation has oral health benefits for both adults and children. In addition, these findings should provide reassurance that moderate fluorosis is very rare in New Zealand, and that the prevalence of any level of fluorosis was not significantly different for people living in fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas.”
Yes, it covers only the period up to 2008 and it would be good to get more recent high-quality data from a similar study.
But Connett’s accusation of “cherry-picked data” is simply wrong – and dishonest. In fact, scientific principles were used to obtain a representative sample for the survey – recognising that oral health is strongly influenced by ethnic, regional and fluoridation differences.
The methods used are explained in 22 pages of the report – MoH. (2010). Our Oral Health Key findings of the 2009 New Zealand Oral Health Survey.
In contrast, the annual School Dental Data is simply a record of overall findings. There is no attempt to standardise diagnostic and reporting methods to the standard of the Oral Health Survey or scientific studies.
But, of course, it provides a lot of data which can be cherry-picked to support a specific argument or confirm a bias. FFNSZ and Paul Connett have ignored all the known ethnic, social and regional differences in their cherry-picking. Consequently, their reported “findings” do not have credibility.
I think it is somewhat disrespectful of Paul Connett to include such a shonky bit of misrepresentation in a presentation prepared for members of parliament. It is also disrespectful in that he relies on his scientific qualifications, his Ph. D. to give “respectability” to a scientific argument which is so easily shown to be false.
Surely our members of parliament deserve something better than this.
Although, even with members of parliament, I guess the old adage “reader (or listener) beware” applies. Sensible MPs will not accept such assurances at face value and will seek out adive=ce on such matters from their officials and experts.
I guess we should feel pretty confident that most of our MPs are sensible in this repect. The fact they did not turn up to a meeting to hear someone well-known for misrepresenting the science is telling – and this despite the fact that anti-fluoride activists were exerting strong pressure on MPs to attend.
Politicians have experienced, and learned from, excessive lobbying, pressuring and untruthful submissions precisely because of their targeting by anti-science activist groups like FFNZ. They know this is why local councils wanted the central government to take over fluoridation decisions.
I suspect our parliamentary politicians are a little more mature than our local body politicians and now treat such organised campaigns like water off a duck’s back.