Pro-fluoride O’Brien Institute now says science isn’t settled on fluoride’s risks

Despite their claims of neutrality and objectivity, the O'Brien Institute's social media activity, newsletters, and other publicity of recent years have provided an abundance of evidence confirming the Institute’s firmly entrenched pro-fluoride stance when it comes to artificial water fluoridation.

An uncanny similarity

Australia is often likened to Canada, with many enviable similarities. One notable difference, however, is fluoride. In the last 20 years, many councils and regions in Canada have rejected or ceased water fluoridation. In fact only 29 per cent of Canada’s population now receives chemically fluoridated drinking water, compared to around 90 per cent in Australia. More and more Canadian councils are following in Europe’s footsteps and questioning this unsafe and ineffective practice. But for some councils, like the city of Calgary, it’s been a roller-coaster ride.

In 1957, 1961 and again in 1971, Calgarians voted against adding fluoridation chemicals to their drinking water. A plebiscite in 1989 resulted in fluoride being added to Calgary’s drinking water in 1991 at a rate of 1mg/L (a concentration similar to Australia). In 1998, a panel of five experts recommended a reduction in the level of fluoride to 0.7 mg/L. This change was adopted in 1999 following a second plebiscite where Calgarians again voted in favour of fluoridation by a narrow 55 per cent. Then, in May 2011 the City of Calgary discontinued fluoridation as directed by Council. This shows that Calgary is clearly a city polarized by the concept of adding a toxic industrial waste product to its drinking water.

That’s why, in February this year, a dental-lobby, along with fluoridation proponents on the Calgary City Council, voted to commission the University of Calgary’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health (OIPH) to conduct a review of fluoridation. (Full report available here).

Perhaps it’s obvious why OIPH was chosen for this review. Despite their claims of neutrality and objectivity, the O’Brien Institute’s social media activity, newsletters, and other publicity of recent years have provided an abundance of evidence confirming the Institute’s firmly entrenched pro-fluoride stance when it comes to artificial water fluoridation.

Before we focus on the review’s findings, it’s worth briefly looking at several fascinating events. Unfortunately, as far as the methodology and content of this latest review is concerned, the ingrained bias continued despite OIPH desperately trying to demonstrate otherwise.

An image used in one of O'Brien Institute's pro-fluoride tweets from a Carlgary Herald editorial cartoon.

When he accepted this assignment, O’Brien Institute’s Scientific Director, Dr William Ghali, made it clear to Calgary Council that the Institute’s report would be based mainly on a deeply-flawed report from an obscure, unaccountable and pro-fluoride-biased non-governmental organisation called Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH).

In June 2019, Hardy Limeback, PhD, DDS; (Professor Emeritus and former Head of Preventative Dentistry at the University Of Toronto; Former President of the Canadian Association for Dental Research and Co-Author of the US National Research Council 2006 Review “Fluoride in Drinking Water”) made a detailed submission to Calgary Council, emphatically discrediting the CADT report on which the O’Brien Institute’s recent review was based. “CADT’s fluoridation report cannot be trusted. It DOES NOT protect Canadians,” Dr Limeback stated.

In his submission, Dr Limeback concluded:

  • The CADTH reports are biased and flawed
  • The evidence for fluoridation benefit is very weak
  • The benefit, if there is any, is very small and it will cost Calgary a lot of money to restart fluoridation
  • Evidence is mounting that children will be harmed by fluoridation (not only by dental fluorosis, but injury to the thyroid, brain, pancreas etc)
  • If the O’Brien Institute for Public Health wants to protect Calgarians, it should recommend the status quo (no fluoridation). This would mean Calgary will continue to stand with BC, Quebec and most of the rest of the world outside of the US, NZ and Australia, in not adding industrial waste fluoride to its drinking water.

On 17 July 2019, Safe Water Calgary, in collaboration with scientists, researchers, physicians, toxicologists and dentists from North America, Australia, Ireland and the UK, published a review titled “Statement in Opposition to Artificial Water Fluoridation: A Refutation of the CADTH Report on Community Water Fluoridation of 2019.”

But these efforts made little impact on OIPH’s clearly biased agenda. On 19 July 2019, Dr Ghali interviewed the lead authors of Safe Water Calgary’s review, Dr. Hardy Limeback, Robert Dickson, MD, and Paul Connett, PhD.

After the interview, Dr. Limeback summed it up succinctly via Twitter, stating:

Safe Water Calgary's Statement in Opposition to Artificial Water Fluoridation (July 2019)
“I was interviewed by Dr Ghali – he clearly ignored a lot of science I mentioned. He relied too heavily on the CADTH report (author still unacknowledged, could have been an undergrad).”
“While acknowledging some of the potential harms (which are quite serious), it relied too heavily on the CADTH report. Dr Ghali missed a LOT.”
“To be considered rigorous systematic reviews, ALL studies must be included, not just those that support your position (that’s called cherry picking). In BC, when 2 communities stopped fluoridation, cavity rates went down not up. Why was this study not included?”

Dr Limeback’s detailed June submission to council was delivered according to protocol and on time for the City of Calgary’s Standing Policy Committee on Community and Protective Services’ Hearing on Water Fluoridation, scheduled for 24 July, 2019. But the entire submission, along with two other fluoridation-disparaging submissions, were suspiciously omitted from the agenda. Obviously someone was not pleased with Dr. Limeback’s harsh critique of the OIPH report.

But the intrigue doesn’t stop there. On 22 July 2019, Calgary Council voted to cancel the scheduled committee meeting, just two days prior to the bombshell “expose” that clearly many people had already worked very hard to prepare for.

So when it comes to finding similarities between Australia and Canada, these highly-biased antics seem remarkably like the methodology used by our National Health and Medical Research Council, whose obvious agenda is simply to continue propping up our national fluoridation program.

To be considered rigorous systematic reviews, ALL studies must be included, not just those that support your position (that’s called cherry picking). In BC, when 2 communities stopped fluoridation, cavity rates went down not up. Why was this study not included?”

Hardy Limeback, PhD, DDS; Professor Emeritus and former Head of Preventative Dentistry at the University Of Toronto; Former President of the Canadian Association for Dental Research and Co-Author of the US National Research Council 2006 Review “Fluoride in Drinking Water”
What the O’Brien Institute’s report reveals

Section Two of the O’Brien report deals with the potential harms of fluoridation, with a portion dedicated to neurotoxicity, including discussion of some of the more recent studies. They highlight the 2017 Bashash Mother-Offspring study that found that certain levels of fluoride in a pregnant woman’s urine will lower the child’s IQ.  They also commented on a second study from Bashash et al. 2018, which found that higher urinary fluoride levels during pregnancy was associated with attention hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in children at 6-12 years of age.

It was particularly interesting that they pointed out that criticism from the pro-fluoridation lobby of these two studies was baseless and inaccurate:

“One widely-stated  caveat/criticism for these two ELEMENT studies just described is that the levels of urinary fluoride measured in pregnant Mexican women may not be relevant to Canada. This criticism is, however, addressed by a recent Canadian study…this study reveals that the maternal urinary fluoride levels for women in communities with water fluoridation is comparable to that of Mexican women in the ELEMENT cohort. The amount of black tea consumed may further increase the exposure to fluoride.” [p. 20]

The O’Brien report also mentions a soon-to-be published Canadian IQ study, based on this graduate thesis that re-affirms fluoride exposure during pregnancy lowers IQ at the levels found in “optimally” fluoridated communities. 

“…there is some new emerging evidence that fluoride exposure during pregnancy may be harmful to the brain development of children, with important studies having been published subsequent to the review of this evidence by the National Research Council in the U.S. in 2006…The new emerging studies in this domain need to be tracked very closely, and carefully evaluated as they appear.”  [p. 21]

These acknowledgements and conclusions are damaging for Australia’s NHMRC which has consistently and arrogantly claimed that fluoridation is safe and effective.

Despite their warnings and an admission that a sharp increase in dental fluorosis is another side-effect of fluoridation, the O’Brien report was still heavily biased in favour of the practice.  As pointed out above, this heavy bias, from an institute that has a long and public history of endorsing fluoridation, was to be expected and is no doubt why they were chosen for the review in the first place.

It is likely that Canadian dental associations and American Fluoridation Society will try to amend the O’Brien report and re-ignite the debate later this year.  However, Safe Water Calgary and Fluoride Action Network will build upon their momentum to ensure the public won’t forget the harm posed by fluoridation. This will include a new video on how the fluoridation-lobby is actively working to silence Calgary professionals who speak out in opposition to the practice of fluoridation. Stay tuned!