“Dr. Strangelove,” fluoride and Israel’s health minister

Ben Sales

Israeli Health Minister Yael German would have fit right into the cast of “Dr. Strangelove.”

Much like Jack D. Ripper, the macho general in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Cold War satire who began a nuclear war because he was afraid the Russians had fluoridated America’s water supply, German is very concerned about the H20 her countrymen are drinking. Which is why, effective last week, she’s banned fluoride in Israel’s tap water.


The move has reportedly upset dentists and doctors across Israel, who say that fluoride helps prevent cavities. According to the Jerusalem Post, a 2005 committee on tap water quality recommended that municipalities in Israel at least have the option of fluoridating their water — especially if it’s desalinated. Desalinated water drawn from the Mediterranean makes up an increasing share of Israel’s drinking water.

But German is holding firm. As mayor of Herzliya in the late 1990s and early 2000s, she removed fluoride from the city’s water supply. In a letter to doctors last week she wrote that fluoride could harm pregnant women, the elderly and people with thyroid issues, according to the Times of Israel. She also wrote that fluoridating the water infringes on citizens’ rights to take care of their own teeth as they see fit.

“Mandatory fluoridation is medical treatment,” Dr. Arnon Afek, the Health Ministry’s director-general, told the Post. “Individuals have the right to decide if they want it or not. The question is not if fluoride is beneficial, but how it should be delivered. We cannot force people.”

But the American Dental Association, in a number of publications, has dismissed fluoride skeptics, and stated that “the overwhelming weight of credible scientific evidence has consistently indicated that fluoridation of community water supplies is safe.” The ADA said that fluoride doesn’t hurt the thyroid gland and could benefit pregnant women and the elderly. It called fluoridation the “single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay.”

Before the policy change, 70 percent of Israel’s water was fluoridated — much like the 67 percent of U.S. water that contains fluoride. Israel now joins a list of countries — among them Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden, according to the Times of Israel, who have banned fluoridation altogether, rather than allowing local water authorities to decide for themselves.

“Fluoridation reduces and prevents dental cavities,” read a statement from the Israel Dental Association, according to the Post. “Cancellation of fluoridation thus harms the dental health of Israeli residents.”

Ben Sales is JTA’s Israel correspondent.