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Queensland: Beautiful Without Fluoride One Day, Not Perfectly Cavity-Free The Next

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Queensland: Beautiful Without Fluoride One Day, Not Perfectly Cavity-Free The Next

  1. Home
  2. Dental Articles
  3. Children’s Dentistry Articles
  4. Queensland: Beautiful Without Fluoride One Day, Not Perfectly Cavity-Free The Next
Queensland Beautiful Without Fluoride One Day, Not Perfectly Cavity Free The Next In Brisbane, Wavell Heights, Clayfield In Sure Dental


One word not two. As Aussies, we like to talk fast and run words together. Something about not letting flies get into our mouth. Or the difference between free settlers and convicts.

Who knows why, really. We do lots of stuff that nobody understands but us.

We like it that way.

It was almost Cooktown the state, rather than the northeastern Queensland town, as a legacy to Yorkshireman Captain James Cook – the most celebrated explorer of his colonialist time. About twenty places in Australia have been named after him including a southern electorate of Sydney. It includes Cronulla; its sticky residue the inexcusable 2005 race riots, and giving us undoubtedly the most arrogant, blunderous, bullying Prime Minister this country’s ever endured.

So there’s that.

Never ask Scomo to sing ‘April Sun in Cuba’. Ever. Not that he can, or anyone did; it was just another brilliant cringe-worthy decision he made on his own. Without even asking his wife. His legacy is that he can hold a ukulele but not a tune or a hose.

Enterprising, aggressive, heroic, villainous – take your pick, he’s controversial. (Cook, not Scomo.) After having stood there since 1972, an 8-metre statue of him (Cook, not Scomo) was removed from a main street of Cairns in 2022.

And it’s a town with woefully ugly new buildings so it’s not about aesthetics.

Like the rest of the world, Australia is experiencing the Fourth Turning, where history moves in 80-year cycles to resolve, restructure and establish new cultural value preferences.

In brief, the last time it occurred, the first women were elected to federal parliament (Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tangney), the 40-hour working week was established, the first Holden car rolled off the assembly line, the first computer (CSIR Mark I) was used, and more than 800 First Nations workers and their families walked off Pilbara stations in protest against their poor conditions and pay.

It was an industrial action that lasted for three years: the longest in Australian history.

A landmark for the human rights of First Nations people, it’s significant that eighty years later we’re facing a referendum for constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders.

Fourth Turnings turn slowly, it seems.

Much like Brisbane and water fluoridation.

Originally supported in the US by the Surgeon General, in 1945 the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan lead the world in the fluoridation of public drinking water to assist in the prevention of tooth decay.

It all started in 1901.

Young dental school graduate Frederick McKay noticed that patients of his new Colorado Springs practice had what became known as ‘Colorado Brown Stain’ – a dark discolouration of local resident’s teeth not found in any other place, or in any dental literature.

After 30 years of treating the condition, it transpired that the mottled enamel was the result of developmental imperfections in children’s teeth. Residents whose permanent teeth had not developed the stains didn’t have them turn brown; it was children’s’ secondary teeth that were at high risk.

What was confounding was that the afflicted teeth were surprisingly and inexplicably resistant to decay.

Eventually, the Aluminium Company of America (Alcoa) tested the water and it was found to have very high levels of fluoride – created from salts that form when fluorine combines with minerals in soil or rocks. Elevated levels will in fact, stain teeth.

And protect them.

It was the concentration, not the compound that warranted intense investigation.

Beaconsfield, Tasmania was the first in Australia to adopt the programme in 1953 with locals convinced that the water supply contained some property that was causing increased dental issues in their children.

Frank Grey was the municipal chemist and filtration officer in charge of the Beaconsfield water plant, with a professional interest in fluoridation. He first learned about the new use of fluoride from a 1948 article in the Journal of the American Water Works Association by US academic M. Starr Nichols, entitled ‘Supplementing water supplies with fluorine’.

He submitted a report to the council, detailing evidence of the American studies that showed a decrease in tooth decay 65% after the implementation of fluoridated water.

Three years after Beaconsfield, Yass in New South Wales, followed suit.

There was some opposition to adding fluoride to drinking water.

Queensland Beautiful Without Fluoride One Day, Not Perfectly Cavity Free The Next In Brisbane, Wavell Heights, Clayfield In Sure Dental

In the 1960s it was claimed that acne, allergies, backache, left-handedness, cancer, boils, brittle bones, atherosclerosis, heart disease, mottled teeth, paralysis, stammering, animal sterility, and varicose veins were all caused by fluoridation.

Fifteen years after the introduction of fluoride, the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Royal Commission was held in Tasmania. Retired public servant Bruce Howard Brown, provided testimony that the programme was used to brainwash younger generations, and undermine Christian values. (Which sounds rather Scomoesque, some forty years later.)

The Commission found in favour of fluoridation. With the passing of the Fluoridation Act 1968, all of Tasmania’s communal water supplies were fluoridated.

It was the first of the acts of parliament or administered government policies to regulate community water fluoridation in Australia.

Considered a cost effective intervention for dental caries regardless of age, income or access to oral care it was deemed of particular benefit to residents of rural areas. By 1977, capital cities across the states and territories had fluoride added to the water supply. By 1984, via 850 towns and cities, almost 66% of the population had access to it.

Except Brisbanites.

Australian Child Dental Health Surveys had been conducted every year or two since the 1980s. They invariably showed that the children of Queensland experienced more tooth decay than those in other states.

Although Townsville had taken it on in 1965, by 2001, only 4.7% of the Queensland population had access to fluoridated water, in comparison to almost 70% of the rest of the population.

2008 brought Queensland’s Water Fluoridation Act, with the state government declaring that all communities of more than a thousand people should be fluoridated.

That year, 134 water supplies were added to the programme, including Brisbane and the Gold Coast, and within a few years, 90% of Queenslanders had access to fluoridated water.

However, in 2012 that coverage dropped to 76%.

An amendment to the Queensland Act, overturning the mandatory water fluoridation gave the northern state a different legal framework to the rest of the country. It comprises the Act, as well as the Water Fluoridation Regulation 2020 for measuring fluoride concentration.

Like Captain James Cook, water fluoridation remains controversial.

The Fluoride Action Network, an international anti-fluoridation group, advocates that the addition of fluoride to water is unethical, since informed consent cannot be obtained. It also maintains that dosages cannot be controlled because of the varying water consumption of individuals.

As recently as 2019, a Canadian observational study published in JAMA Paediatrics argues against fluoridation, linking it to lowering the IQ of children whose mothers drank it during pregnancy.

Again in Canada, the International Association of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, states that fluoridated water can cause acne, thyroid dysfunction and neurological issues.

Equally, numerous studies in many countries over several decades, show the negative and lasting health impacts of permanent tooth loss and poor oral health caused by cavities.

To mark the 50th anniversary of water fluoridation Downunder, in 2003 the Australian Dental Association erected a monument commemorating Frank Grey in the Beaconsfield and West Tamar community.

Unlike Cook’s statue in Cairns, it’s likely to stay.

Along with the improved dental health of Queenslanders.


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