Health Minister taken to High Court over prohibition of fluoridation of drinking water

Group financing appeal says German’s decision will cause harm to public health.

October 6, 2014 17:30
2 minute read.
Tap water

Tap water [illustrative]. (photo credit: INIMAGE)


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Public health and dental experts who fiercely oppose Health Minister Yael German’s unilateral decision to prohibit fluoridation of the drinking water filed an appeal against her to the High Court of Justice on Monday and called for its restoration.

The group, who financed the appeal with institutional and individual donations, and who hired former Jerusalem Municipality legal adviser Joseph Havillio to take the case, charged that German’s decision will “cause harm to public health and significantly increase the gap in dental health between the well-off and the poor.”

The Health Ministry spokeswoman declined to comment to the press on the case, saying only that “we will speak at the court.”

The group is headed by Prof. Jonathan Mann and Prof. Harold Sgan-Cohen, leading faculty members and professional dentists at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine. It also includes other senior dentists, public health experts, heads of Jewish and Arab local councils, Yad Sarah, the Arab Dentists’ Association, the Israel Dental Hygienists’ Association and others.

All senior public health experts in the ministry and outside have opposed German’s view that everyone should not be exposed to fluoride, even though most is not used for drinking, and that some people may be opposed to this supplement.

But they have feared criticizing her policy in public.

Even German does not deny that addition of small amounts of the gas to the water is effective in reducing cavities, especially among children. Many hundreds of millions of people in the world whose water supply does not contain natural fluoride get water fluoridated by their municipal authorities, either as an option or required.

Only a minuscule number of countries have barred fluoridation completely. Since the 1980s, about 70 percent of the population has been receiving fluoridated water, with the cost paid by adding a small fee to property tax bills.

The result has been a significant improvement in dental health, especially among children, the dental and public health group stated.

Since German’s final decision a few months ago, the ministry hasn’t given any advice to parents on what to do except to suggest that they take their children to the dentist.

Weak socioeconomic sectors are likely to suffer the most, as fluoridation has lowered the rate of dental decay in Arab children, for example, to that of better-off Jewish children.

The group that filed the case quoted former ministry director-general Prof.

Roni Gamzu, who wrote three years ago that “ministry public health service director Prof. Itamar Grotto and I will fight with all our strength to prevent this stupidity [prohibition and cancellation of fluoridation].”

In 2002, as mayor of Herzliya, German and others called on the High Court of Justice to cancel fluoridation of the country’s drinking water.

The Health Ministry, which she now heads, opposed her position, and with the recommendation of the court, the case was eliminated.

Havillio said on behalf of the appellants that German’s decision significantly increases the dental health gap between the poor and rich.

“Fluoridation must be a scientific decision and not a political one,” the lawyer said, “so it is absolutely unreasonable that the minister decided it on her own, in contravention of the advice of the professional level in her office and of the medical and academic establishment in Israel and abroad.”

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