(photo credit: YOEL LEVI)
Two years and two months have passed since Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman promised to restore fluoridation – canceled by his predecessor Yael German – of the nation’s water supply.
In the meantime, the dental health of children, especially those in poor families that eat junk food and don’t take care of their teeth properly, has suffered, according to experts.
When German and her party were voted out of power in the last Knesset election, reversing her cancellation of fluoridation was one of the first steps Litzman planned to implement, but the problem has dragged on.
In “a few months,” fluoridation will return, according to Udi Kaliner, acting head of public health services in the ministry, if the council of the Water Authority headed by Giora Shaham approves it as expected and a petition filed in the High Court of Justice by German against fluoridation is dismissed.
Kaliner said the ministry is determined to restore fluoridation all over the country, but as the contents of drinking water is controlled by law, only the Knesset can pass legislation to restore it. “All the regulations for water quality and fluoridation are in place. They have to be published to put them into effect, and the Water Authority council has to approve it. I agree that too much time has passed, but the process takes time,” he added.
The council will meet on September 7. The cost of fluoridation adds just a few agorot per cubic meter to water bills.
Hundreds of millions of people around the world drink water with the controlled addition of fluoride to reduce tooth decay. Many others are protected because of fluoride that is naturally present in their water supplies. Fluoridated water creates low levels of fluoride in saliva, which reduces the rate at which tooth enamel demineralizes and speeds up the rate at which it remineralizes in the early stages of cavities.
More than 70% of Americans have had fluoridated water, which was first introduced in the US in the early 20th century.
The World Health Organization reports that water fluoridation has substantial advantages, especially for high-risk groups, and the World Dental Federation has supported water fluoridation as safe and effective.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Nevertheless, fluoridation has remained controversial in some groups, especially on the Internet, and German – who argued as minister that people should not be forced to drink water with added components, although she did not oppose chlorination – canceled it three years ago.
The Health Ministry introduced mandatory water fluoridation in 1970 in cities, towns and settlements with over 5,000 residents, and indeed, 70% of Israelis received fluoridated water delivered to their taps. But German opposed it as Meretz party mayor of Herzliya and stopped it in her city.
Just weeks after entering office as health minister, she declared that she would stop fluoridation and encountering fierce criticism from professionals in leading Israeli schools of public health and dentistry and from her own ministry experts, she wavered and suggested that fluoridation could be an option instead of being outlawed.
German’s spokesman said then that only Ireland and Israel require fluoridation of drinking water, but her critics responded that everywhere else is it an option open to all local authorities except where barred completely, that is in the Netherlands, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
A group of public health and dental experts including Hebrew University School of Public Health professor emeritus Ted Tulchinsky, Prof. Harold Sgan-Cohen and Prof. Jonathan Mann of the Hebrew University- Hadassah Faculty of Dental Medicine charged then that German’s position was based on “populist arguments, supported by amateur studies” and ignored dozens of years of research in Israel and the world [that absolutely showed] that there is no better health, economic and social substitute for adding fluoride to the tap water in Israel.”
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>