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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
March 27, 2015
Canadian Excellence

Public Opinion And Municipal Fluoridation

My first two encounters with fluoridation were as a student at a school on the Enoch First Nations Indidan Reserve, west of Edmonton. Because the community and the surrounding country areas drew their water from wells, children were not exposed to fluoridated municipal water supplies.  To supplement childrens' dental care, public health nurses periodically visited our school and distributed fluoridated water: a sickly sweet mixture that looked like Kool-Aid. Children in most urban centers never had this experience because their municipal governments practiced the policy of fluoridating their water supply because of its important role in preventing tooth decay.

My second exposure to fluoridation was much later, watching Stanley Kubrick's classic film Dr. Strangelove. In that film, the mad general, Buck Turgidson, tells his English adjutant that he "has never seen a  Commie drink a glass of water" because "fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face".  

Shortly after I arrived in southern Ontario, the municipality of Waterloo voted to end the practice of fluoridation, which I found extremely curious. As a result, Dr. André Perrella of the Laurier Institute For The Study Of Public Opinion And Policy and I conducted a public opinion survey of residents of the Region of Waterloo to try to find out just what drove the support and opposition to municipal fluoridation in Waterloo.  The results we found were surprising.  Whereas most people have understood opposition to fluoridation with reference to the concept of alienation (the mad general in Dr. Strangelove is a clasically alienated individual: mistrustful of his government but feeling unable to do anything to change the situation).  However, some research has suggested, and our research suggests that this is the case in Waterloo, that opposition to fluoridation is driven by a mistrust of the medical establishment and a fear of mainstream medical interventions such as vaccines.

This research is currently being supported by Wilfrid Laurier University's Office of Research Services in the form of a Research Seed Grant. I anticipate a working paper here soon.