Fluoride And The Role Of Government 

October 1st, 2013 | R. Rados 

"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." - Mark Twain

If I told you it would be a great idea to outlaw sugar and replace it with aspartame, you'd probably call me an idiot or an asshole. If I told you that fluoridation of public water supplies was a good idea, you might agree with me. If that's the case, you'll need to check your philosophy and worldview for glitches and inconsistencies. If you believe fluoride is harmless, good for you. This isn't about what people find harmful, toxic, or healthy. This is about controlling what people put into their bodies. You could find both fluoride and aspartame harmless, but that doesn't matter. There will always be people who disagree with you and those people have a right to refuse fluoridation. Their right to refuse it supersedes your right to have it. 

In 1989, Calgary held a referendum that authorized fluoride to be added to the city's water system. 53% of Calgarians voted in favour of fluoridation. The same thing happened again in 1998, with 55% voting to keep fluoride in the water. In 2011, fluoride was removed after a council vote. The fact that a few councillors scrapped something that was decided by 55% of the city's population caused some mild outrage. However, council's decision to not allow a plebiscite was the right one.

Some people actually believe that tyranny by a majority is as immoral as tyranny by a single individual. The solution to any kind of tyranny is simple: let people make their own choices. That's exactly the approach Calgary's city council took in 2011. It's the only thing I'll ever commend them for.

A common argument that always pops up in support of fluoridation is the same as every other argument that favours having a government control our lives. “What about the poor people?” is the most obnoxious and overused question in the fluoridation debate. Any time someone tries to carry the torch for the big, benevolent government, they always use low-income families and the lower class as their pawns. 

So what about the poor people?

The last time I was at Wal-Mart, toothbrushes and fluoridated toothpaste were under four dollars a piece. A toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste should last a single person about a month. That's under ten dollars a month for a dental hygiene budget. If that isn't enough, an average bottle of fluoridated mouthwash is between five and ten dollars. As for going to the dentist, it is true that most low-income families without dental plans can't afford regular cleanings and fluoride treatments. In Alberta, however, the government actually has a program that reduces dental costs for low income earners. Even if that wasn't the case, it isn't anyone else's responsibility to ensure the dental health of every other stranger. Although most dentists would disagree just to protect their businesses, going to the dentist for regular cleanings and fluoride treatments isn't necessary for people who control their sugar intake, brush their teeth three times a day and floss regularly. For those of us who haven't had a cavity since fifth grade, forced fluoride consumption isn't necessary. The naturally occurring fluoride in tap and bottled water will suffice.

Since everyone pays for municipal water, it's unjust to expect people who don't want to ingest or bathe in fluoride to start spending money on filtration and bottled water. The same can't be said about those taxpayers who think they have a right to drink fluoridated tap water. Their taxes and fees already cover what they're supposed to, which is the treatment, supply and delivery of water. If they want extra fluoride added to their water, they're perfectly free to add it themselves.

You would think that mass fluoridation is something only socialists and liberals subscribe to, but it isn't. Plenty of conservatives have expressed their concern over Calgary's decision to remove fluoride from the water system. Real conservatives understand that the only way to keep a government small is by restricting it. This takes us back to the issue of majority rule and plebiscites.

A direct democracy is nothing more than an overbearing tyranny. Taking away the rights of 49% of a society to appease 51% is no better than the vice versa. Again, the only solution is to restrict either percentage from having that ability. Instead of taking away choices, a government's role should be to maximize choices. Imposing the will of the 55% on the 100% doesn't do that. Restricting a majority – or any minority – from minimizing everyone's choices is what a responsible government is supposed to do. That's the point of a government. Unfortunately, that's not the type of government we see often enough in Canada.  

The health effects of fluoride don't matter. When we accept that it's not the majority's right to impose its will on all individuals, opinions are irrelevant. We can't allow one opinion to become law over another. It's just that simple. Outlawing trans-fats and sugar falls into the same category as fluoridation. Micromanaging what taxpayers put into their bodies is far beyond the role of government. If we start expecting it to be the role of government, we will be setting a dangerous precedent and erasing the lines that separate force from freedom.

The fluoridation argument is perfect for defining the role of government. The same logic that argues against it can be used to argue against most forms of government intervention. We aren't talking about safety nets, we are talking about a government (or a majority) controlling the diets, habits and routines of individuals. Although a few conservatives might disagree, having a dental program for low-income families is far less intrusive than fluoridating everyone's drinking water. Canada and its municipalities should focus more on establishing new standards, rather than trying to “get with the times” and follow the direction of some major US municipalities like New York and San Francisco. Canadians often put themselves on a higher pedestal than their American counterparts and try desperately to define themselves as being different. Well, Canada, this would be a good place to start proving that we're different.