Water Fluoridation: Facts & Fallacies
April 21, 2008
—Water fluoridation has been around for just over 60 years and whilst the practice has become widespread, particularly in Western nations, it’s always been a controversial and often passionately argued one.
My formative moment in the fluoride ‘debate’, one that cathartically shunted me into the anti-fluoride lobby’s arms, came many years ago when I was sitting in a dentist’s chair in Cambridge, UK.
I knew very little about fluoride at the time, so it was with an open mind and calm disposition that I opened my mouth in order for my dentist to pour in some fluoride solution which he said would give my teeth a strong protective coating. The problems started immediately after having dispensed the liquid into my mouth when he stammered, “…but don’t whatever you do swallow it!” “Why?” I gurgled, “Because it’s poisonous and could kill you,” came his reply.
The swill, which was supposed to have lasted about one minute actually lasted about 10 seconds and ended up all over my lap and the surgery floor. The incident was funny. We laughed about it at the time, but I had learned something new and very disturbing about fluoride that has remained with me. It matured into an understanding and appreciation of matters concerning fluoride that, whether you have any concerns about ingesting this chemical or not, I feel compelled to share with you.
The pro-fluoridation lobby, notably the dental and medical associations in several countries, together with armies of practitioners tethered to them, will tell you that fluoride is a naturally occurring substance,1 that it is safe and effective at preventing tooth decay when used in designated dosages, and that its use is strongly supported by credible scientific evidence. It has, they say, improved the quality of life and well being of millions of people around the world for decades.
They will also say that because it is generally added to water supplies at less than 1 part per million, that it is extremely safe, but that ‘if’ young children get too much fluoride they may develop a condition called dental fluorosis which is mostly detectable by dentists and involves a mild discolouration of teeth enamel. All sounds pretty harmless and reassuring don’t you think?
However, if you were to take a quick peek at even a small amount of the arguments that are levied against the use of fluoride by the anti-fluoride lobbyists, you might be in for a nasty, albeit rather compelling, surprise.
Let me just pick off a few of them and in no particular order.
On the history of fluoridation, despite what is written on the Australian Dental Association’s website2 – which states that interest began in the US more than 100 years ago when a Colorado dentist noticed that some of his patients were displaying mottled yet decay free teeth which he deducted was due to their drinking of local spring water that was naturally high in fluoride – the real and well documented origins of water fluoridation actually sprang from a pre-emptive public relations campaign commissioned by US military interests.3 They were attempting to stave off litigation arising out of the Manhattan Project, the one that was set up to produce the world’s first atomic bomb.
Apparently atomic bomb production required enormous amounts of fluoride, which inevitably resulted in large amounts of fluoridated (not radioactive) effluent spewing out over the US countryside. People, animals and crops that were downwind began to get diseased causing the US government to become concerned (for its precious bomb project, not the people who were sick).
For the US, with plans to use the A-Bomb as a defensive deterrent after WWII, it was a strategic imperative that bomb production be allowed to continue without the threat of massive class actions hanging over it, and that therefore the exposure of humans to ‘low’ levels of atmospheric fluoride be demonstrated to be biologically safe.
Human studies developed and administered by institutions associated with the A-Bomb project were mainly focused on the town of Newburgh,4 New York from 1946-56 where the effects on health were observed following the addition of fluoride to the town’s drinking water supplies.
Whilst the results of the research were heavily censored, the intended purpose of the findings had been to serve as evidence in favour of the safety of continued low, long term exposure of humans to fluoride.5
The litigants, mainly farmers, were bought off and the results of the research will therefore probably never be dragged into the public spotlight. However, following incidental observations made during the water fluoridation research program, it was floated by one of the team leaders that it “might help to counteract a local fear of fluoride… through lectures on… fluoride toxicology and perhaps the usefulness of fluoride in tooth health.”6
The rest is history! That the development of water fluoridation was motivated by a benevolent move to prevent dental caries was almost a total myth and it gets a lot worse than that.
Fluoride production increased significantly since the immediate post-war years and is now a toxic by-product of the chemical industry that is produced in massive quantities. Most of the early research presented to support the notion that fluoride is both safe and effective for use in the prevention of tooth decay was conducted or funded by the very same interests7 that stood to benefit most from its use in the public domain. It was also done when there was a lot less environmental fluoride around too.
That fluoride is toxic and dangerously so is not in doubt or contention, but the fact that it is poured into the water supply of any local council that so wishes to do so is nothing short of criminal, given the facts that are now available.
Most European countries including Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Holland and the whole of Scandinavia, have (in many cases after having embraced it) now rejected water fluoridation outright.8 As of today Europe is reportedly 90%+ free9 of fluoridated water. Indeed there have never been any transparently conducted scientific studies anywhere in the world,10 including Australia, that unequivocally demonstrated the safety of water fluoridation on human health, most of the research having been focused on the chemical’s dubious impact on oral health.
Fluoride is a cumulative toxin, it gets stored mostly in bone tissue and has now found its way into dental products, food, soft drinks, polluted air and in fact it’s just about in anything manufactured using treated mains water.
Although it varies from place to place, it is added to water in concentrations of around 1 part per million, a level deemed safe,11 yet is added to toothpaste products in concentrations as high as 1,500 p.p.m., easily enough to kill a small child if it swallowed a whole tube.
Fluoride does indeed occur in nature in trace amounts, but the fluoride that we have in our water supplies is not the same thing at all. What we put into our mains water is, without exception, an industrial toxic waste product. Neither is fluoride in any of its forms essential for good nutrition.12 Tooth decay (contrary to what is implied by the likes of the Australian Dental Association and the Australian Medical Association) is not a symptom of fluoride deficiency. There is no such thing.
The forms of fluoride placed into our water systems and then into our bodies are usually calcium fluoride, sodium fluoride or hydrofluorosilicic acid. They are all either industrial or pharmaceutical grades of fluoride compounds which, in the instance of the latter, is scraped from the inside of smokestack scrubbers during the production of phosphate fertilisers. If it were not dumped into our drinking water it would be considered a highly dangerous and toxic chemical to be disposed of at considerable expense and with significant health and safety precautions. Yet we happily consume it when we’re told to.
Another way of looking at water fluoridation is as a form of forced mass medication not by doctors, but, effectively by dentists. We should remember that these are the same body of professionals who are still lodging tons of mercury in our mouths each year in the form of amalgam fillings. If I lived in an area where 25% of people suffered from headaches I’d be unhappy, to put it mildly, if my local council put paracetamol in my water supply as a preventive measure and on the advice of some doctor. I fail to see the difference with what they are doing with fluoride (except that fluoride is a toxic waste and not an approved medicine).
If you absolutely do not want to take fluoride when it’s forced on you the only way to resist is to purchase a water filter that is good enough to filter the stuff out. Even if you did this, what about the water you bath and shower in, or those who live in places too small to accommodate an extra tank, or in institutions where you just don’t get the choice. It’s sometimes simply impossible to take evasive action.
With mass medication there is no such thing as a safe nominated dose. Even if we did need extra fluoride, just like everything else in this world everyone’s needs are totally individual, as are indeed our levels of exposure to fluoride natural and otherwise. We’d do well to remember that early research into fluoride was done before it was widely dispersed into the atmosphere, our food, drinks and personal care products.
Further, there are those amongst us who tend to drink more than others, sportspeople, the sick or the very young. What level of choice do they get if they don’t want to overdose on fluoride? Water fluoridation will give you the same dose per litre whether you drink a lot of water or not.
I don’t trust any authority when, as the Australian Dental Association (ADA) does, it continues to claim that the side effects of fluoridation are limited to fluorosis13 and little else. Fluorosis is, in itself, evidence of excessive ingestion of fluoride and shouldn’t be tolerated at all – period. In order for the ADA to say this with any integrity and honesty it has to be ignoring, at the public’s expense, a large body of accumulating evidence that strongly indicates fluoride is neither as effective, nor as safe as it was once cracked up to be.
New research indicates that the benefits of fluoride are equivalent to an average difference of less than one filling in baby teeth of younger children and “no significant difference” in the permanent teeth of older children,14 yet the pro-lobbyists are still claiming the outdated figure of between a 15-25% reduction in tooth caries in fluoridated areas! They’re having us on!
Perhaps more to the point, the reduction in dental caries that we have seen (credit for which has been claimed by the pro-lobby) were in line with similar reductions in areas that were not fluoridated. In fact in fluoridated areas that were monitored after they had ceased fluoridation caries reduction was seen to peak immediately after cessation.15
Other research tells us that for fluoride to be effective as a preventive measure against tooth decay it has to be used topically.16 This means that forced ingestion via the water supply is ineffective. The same research also indicates that fluoride works least well down among the crevasses and fissures of the teeth, where most decay occurs anyway.
Coming closer to home and Australian research has recently debunked the myth that Australians living in fluoridated areas have healthier teeth and significantly lower levels of tooth decay than the rest of the nation. They don’t.
Recent claims17 by the Queensland government that Townsville (fluoridated for 50 years or more) has 65% less decay is based on data from 1991 (!) and relates to a tiny 0.2% of a single tooth surface (there are 128 tooth surfaces in the average fully grown adult mouth). Therefore the claims and many others that it is using to support fluoridation, and the same goes for every other state, are misleading and unjustified.
More recent surveys done between 2000-2002 clearly show that Townsville children have more decay in their permanent teeth than children in North Brisbane, the Gold Coast and several other Queensland Health Districts that do not have water fluoridation. Townsville, for all its decades of fluoridation, is smack in the middle, no better and no worse than any other area of Queensland. Do these sorts of results justify the continued dumping of a toxic waste into our drinking water?
As the award-winning investigative reporter Christopher Bryson says in his book The Fluoride Conspiracy, “Fluoride science is corporate science, fluoride science is DDT science, it’s asbestos science, its tobacco science.”
It’s happened in Europe, but when are our politicians going to stop this fluoride nonsense here in Australia?
2006 was a good year for anti-fluoride lobbies. The National Research Council in the US, a highly reputable scientific organisation, issued a report called ‘Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA’s Standards’.18 It is a lengthy report that was not commissioned to judge the safety or benefits of water fluoridation per se, but rather to assess the safety of the “maximum contaminant level goal,” which incidentally the report recommended should be lowered.
But the report, despite keeping rigidly to the initial brief, gave strong support to the notion that US citizens are being constantly over-dosed with harmful levels of fluoride and that whilst bones and teeth were most affected, these were not the sole targets of the report’s concern.
The report threw up a growing body of research linking fluoride exposure to crippling skeletal fluorosis (similar in effect to arthritis), bone fracture, joint pain and damaged teeth. It also pointed to fluoride’s disruption of the nervous and endocrine (hormone) systems with specific focus on the brain, the thyroid and the pineal glands. There is also evidence linking fluoride to behavioural disorders, clinical depression, dementia, lowered levels of I.Q. and migraines, and finally to osteosarcoma (a type of bone cancer that particularly affects young males).
So, bad news is good news, but does it make you feel like taking a glass of tap water with added fluoride, or what? Small wonder then that there is this world wide phenomenon whereby whenever there is a publicised public debate on the merits or otherwise of the fluoridation of water, no one from the pro-lobby ever shows up.
By way of reinforcing the reasons why this is so, it’s worth remembering that back in 1965 when fluoridation was well underway in the US, it was Joseph Flanagan of the American Medical Association which openly endorsed the use of fluoride for dental caries prevention. He wrote:
“The AMA is not prepared to state that ‘no harm will be done to any person by water fluoridation’. The AMA has not carried out any research work, either long-term or short-term, regarding the possibility of any side-effects.”19
Which brings me to the extraordinary turn of events that appears to be taking place in Queensland at the time of writing.
Given all the evidence currently available which throws such extreme doubt and serious concerns on the practice of water fluoridation, the State government in Queensland has chosen 2008 to go open slather on water fluoridation.20
Up until now Queenslanders had been given a choice on whether or not to fluoridate its local water supplies. Only 5% of Queensland has elected to do so, although some previously had done so and subsequently discontinued the practice. Yet according to the latest National Children’s Dental Survey (published in Dec. 2007),21 75.1% of Queensland children aged 5-12 years have no decayed teeth. This compares with figures of 76.9% for the national average and 72.9% and 79.7% in the ACT and South Australia respectively (both fluoridated and the ACT 100%). So why the sudden and urgent need to fluoridate Queensland’s water supply?
This provides clear and irrefutable proof that fluoridation neither creates good dental health, nor performs any better at doing so than areas that do not have water fluoridation.
No one is saying there is no problem with standards of dental health and that something really ought to be done about it. The key issue is that overwhelmingly water fluoridation is not the answer, and when it is mistakenly introduced as the answer it presents a plethora of serious new risks to the health of the people who drink it. The ADA doesn’t believe these risks exist and if you don’t believe me go and have a look at the FAQ section of its website.22
Take any region of Australia whether it is fluoridated or not and compare the figures. The statistics,23 when carefully and thoroughly studied, strongly suggest that fluoridation makes only insignificant improvements to dental health in the early years (in all likelihood only because one of the effects of fluoride is to delay the eruption of first teeth) and none at all once kids reach 12 years or so. After drinking fluoridated water for 12 years, Townsville children have the same or more decay as children who never consumed fluoridated water!
It isn’t all about the likes of Townsville either. Some of the other problems that water fluoridation hasn’t solved are: a) nursing bottle tooth decay, a problem affecting all areas in Australia, b) lower income groups which tend to have higher levels of tooth decay, yet still drink the same water as higher income groups, c) rural and remote areas where tooth decay is reportedly consistently worse, and finally d) Aboriginal and Islander communities where oral health has declined to levels well below the national average and have been headed in that direction ever since they stopped eating traditional, healthy diets.
So where is all this going? Well, if Queensland is anything to go by, back to the dark ages. Will someone please tell the Queensland government this is not a good time to take the highly questionable step of forcing water fluoridation onto the rest of the State. It flies directly in the face of common sense, current wisdom, people’s rights and is not in the best interests of everyone’s long term health.
As a spokesperson for Queenslanders Against Water Fluoridation recently articulated in an open letter to State Premier Anna Bligh,24 “If fluoride ingested water made a real difference to decay, the longer it was consumed, the more difference there would be.”
So here, for what it is worth, are a few humble suggestions for the way forward from here. My first and number one priority would be to stop water fluoridation now. The evidence is very much against it and has already convinced most of Western Europe.
My second would be that if you don’t accept the first point, then before anyone with sufficient power and totally lacking an enquiring mind makes a decision that could make us all ill, would someone please fund some good, objective and independent research so that the matter can once and for all be decided.
Thirdly, whilst I’m not sure where everybody else stands on this issue, if you are quietly and rock solidly convinced that you as an individual need fluoride, especially if you have any affiliation with the ADA, then be my guest and go buy yourself a tube of fluoride toothpaste, but remember to spit it out when you’ve done brushing your teeth as it’s not too good for you if you swallow it.
Finally, and just in case the whole nasty issue of poor dental health could even remotely have anything to do with poor diet, nutrition and generally poor standards of personal oral hygiene, perhaps we might be better off investing some money on trying to improve these things.
The ADA can rubbish the anti-fluoridation lobby as unscientific all it likes, but for me I think that the US National Research Council in its 2006 report; theLancet,25 one of the medical world’s most pre-eminent journals, which published an article on fluoride as an emerging neurotoxin; Chinese studies linking fluoride to lowered I.Q.26; Cancer, Causes & Control journal which linked osteosarcoma to water fluoridation27; the American Dental Association & Centre for Disease Control 2006 advising that infants under 12 months old not consume fluoridated water28; should all be given bravery awards for finally providing us with good evidence that links adverse health impacts to the practice of water fluoridation.
Don’t expect the chemical industry to stop producing fluoride any time soon either. It’s a big industry and would probably come to a grinding halt if they found they couldn’t produce it any more. But please, can we make them take it away and store it somewhere safe at their own expense and not at ours?
Ah well, these are just some thoughts and only mine at that!
3. Australian Fluoridation News, ‘The Authentic Original History of Fluoridation’ by Glen S.R. Walker, Sept/Oct 2007, p.2.
4. Ibid., p.6.
5. Ibid., p.7.
6. ‘Declassified documents, studies showing lower IQ bolster voter rejection of fluoridation’,Business Wire, 29 November 1996, www.mind-trek.com/arti-int/961202d.txt
7. Australian Fluoridation News, ‘The Authentic Original History of Fluoridation’ by Glen S.R. Walker, Sept/Oct 2007, p.7.
10. ‘Scientists and Professionals Lash Out Against Water Fluoridation’ by Adam Miller, www.naturalnews.com/022008.html
12. ‘50 Reasons to Oppose Fluoridation’ by Paul Connett, Ph.D Prof. of Chemistry, St. Lawrence University, NY, USA, www.fluoridealert.org/50-reasons.htm
14. ‘Caries Experience Among Children in Fluoridated Townsville and Unfluoridated Brisbane’, by Gary D. Slale; John Spencer; Michael J Davies; Judy F. Stewart, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 1996 Dec; 20(6): 623-9.
15. Olsson ’79; Retief ’79; Mann ’87 & ’90; Steelink ’92; Diesendorf ’86 and Colquhoun ’97, www.fluorideawareballarat.com/what_the_experts_say.htm
16. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ’99, 2001); http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/321/7265/904/a
17. Water Fluoridation & Children’s Dental Health. The Child Dental Health Survey. Aust. 2002.
18. National Research Council ‘Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA’s Standards’, 2006, www.fluoridealert.org/health/epa/nrc/
19. Letter dated 13.5.1965, J.E. Flanagan Jnr. (Assist.Dir. Dept. of Environmental Health, USA).
21. National Children’s Dental Survey, Australia, published 17 December 2007.
23. National Children’s Dental Survey, Australia, published 17 December 2007 & Public Water Fluoridation & Dental Health in NSW (Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 2005. Vol. 9 No.5).
25. ‘Developmental Neurotoxicity in Industrial Chemicals’, Lancet 368.
26. Wang ’97; Guan ’98; Varner ’98; Zhang’99; Lu 2000; Shao 2000; Sun 2000; Bhatnagar 2002; Chen 2002
27. Bassin B; Wypi D; David RB; ‘Age Specific Fluoride Exposure in Drinking Water and Osteosarcoma (US), 2006.
HUW GRIFFITHS is a British-born naturopath who came to Australia in the early ‘90’s. His interest and passion for natural and traditional health therapies was developed and nurtured alongside an international career in marketing and communications.
The above article appeared in New Dawn No. 107 (Mar-Apr 2008).