Water fluoridation is a peculiarly American phenomenon. It started at a time when Asbestos lined our pipes, lead was added to gasoline, PCBs filled our transformers and DDT was deemed so “safe and effective” that officials felt no qualms spraying kids in school classrooms and seated at picnic tables. One by one all these chemicals have been banned, but fluoridation remains untouched.
For over 50 years U.S. government officials have confidently and enthusiastically claimed that fluoridation is “safe and effective.” However, they are seldom prepared to defend the practice in open public debate. Actually, there are so many arguments against fluoridation that it can get overwhelming. Here are just three important reasons why fluoridation should be a relic of a past, less enlightened age:
Reason #1: Fluoridation Is an Outdated Form of Mass Medication
Unlike all other water treatment processes, fluoridation does not treat the water itself, but the person consuming it. The Food & Drug Administration accepts that fluoride is a drug not a nutrient, when used to prevent disease. By definition, therefore, fluoridating water is a form of medication. This is why most western European nations have rejected the practice – because, in their view, the public water supply is not an appropriate place to be adding drugs, particularly when fluoride is readily available for individual use in the form of toothpaste.
Reason #2: Fluoridation Is Unnecessary and Ineffective
The most obvious reason to end fluoridation is that it is now known that fluoride’s main benefit comes from topical contact with the teeth, not from ingestion. Even the CDC’s Oral Health Division now acknowledges this. There is simply no need, therefore, to swallow fluoride, whether in the water, toothpaste, or any other form. Further, despite early claims that fluoridated water would reduce cavities by 65%, modern large-scale studies show no consistent or meaningful difference in the cavity rates of fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas.
Reason #3: Fluoridation Is Not a Safe Practice
First, there is no dispute that fluoridation is causing millions of children to develop dental fluorosis, a discoloration of the teeth that is caused by excessive fluoride intake. Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control have even acknowledged that fluoridation is causing “cosmetically objectionable” fluorosis on children’s front teeth – an effect that can cause children embarrassment and anxiety at an age when physical appearance is the single most important predictor of self-esteem.
Second, it is known that fluoridated water caused severe bone disease in dialysis patients up until the late 1970s (prior to dialysis units filtering fluoride). While dialysis units now filter out the fluoride, research shows that current fluoride exposures are still resulting in dangerously high bone fluoride levels in dialysis patients and patients with other advanced forms of kidney disease. It is unethical to compromise the health of some members in a population to obtain a purported benefit for another – particularly in the absence of these vulnerable members’ knowing consent.
And, finally, a growing body of evidence reasonably indicates that fluoridated water, in addition to other sources of daily fluoride exposure, can cause or contribute to a range of serious effects, including arthritis, damage to the developing brain, reduced thyroid function, and possibly osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in adolescent males.
Paul Connett, Ph.D is Executive Director of Fluoride Action Network, a non-profit coalition of citizens and scientists working to broaden awareness about the toxicity of fluoride compounds and the harmful consequences of water fluoridation to human health and the environment. He holds a B.A. in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University, England and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Dartmouth College. Dr. Connett is retired from his full professorship at St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY, where he taught environmental chemistry and toxicology for 23 years. He is co-author of “The Case Against Fluoride: How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and the Bad Science and Powerful Politics That Keep It There” (2010).