At high doses, fluoride is a potent poison that is almost on par with arsenic. Fluoride’s potency explains why it was used for years as a rodenticide (to kill rodents) and why it is still being used as a pesticide (to kill bugs). It also explains why the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) now requires that all fluoride toothpastes sold in the United States carry the following warning:
“WARNING: If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.”
Poisonings from Fluoride Toothpaste
Fluoride toothpastes carry a poison warning for good reason. A tube of fluoride toothpaste, including bubble-gum flavored varieties with child-friendly cartoon characters on the packaging, has enough fluoride to kill an average-weighing child under the age of 9.
While fatalities from toothpaste ingestion are rare, poisoning incidents are not. A young child can receive an “acutely toxic” dose of fluoride (the dose capable of inducing toxic responses such as gastric pain, nausea, or headache) by ingesting a mere 1 gram of fluoridated paste. A gram of toothpaste is roughly the equivalent of one strip of paste covering an ordinary child’s brush.
Each year there are over 20,000 calls to Poison Control Centers as a result of excessive ingestion of fluoride toothpaste. Hundreds of these reports result in emergency treatment at a medical facility.
Many poisoning incidents from fluoride toothpaste, however, likely go unreported. This is because the symptoms caused by acute fluoride ingestion mimic common gastrointestinal problems. A parent of a child suffering acute fluoride toxicity, therefore, may not realize that bubble gum- or fruit-flavored toothpaste was the culprit. As noted in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry:
“Parents or caregivers may not notice the symptoms associated with mild fluoride toxicity or may attribute them to colic or gastroenteritis, particularly if they did not see the child ingest fluoride. Similarly, because of the nonspecific nature of mild to moderate symptoms, a physician’s differential diagnosis is unlikely to include fluoride toxicity without a history of fluoride ingestion.”
SOURCE: Shulman JD, Wells LM. (1997). Acute fluoride toxicity from ingesting home-use dental products in children, birth to 6 years of age. Journal of Public Health Dentistry 57: 150-8.
Poisonings from Water Fluoridation Accidents
When U.S. health authorities endorsed water fluoridation in the early 1950s, they assured the public that it was “clearly impossible” for a water fluoridation accident to cause any harm. According to Dr. Harold Hodge, the leading promoter of water fluoridation in the 1950s:
“Sometimes the question is raised, What would happen if there were a mechanical breakdown at the fluoridation plant and all of one day’s supply of sodium fluoride or sodium silicofluoride were suddenly dumped into the water? If this large weight of fluoride could be dissolved, mixed and distributed within an hour, there would still be a factor of safety sufficient to predict that the water could be drunk for ten years or more without serious toxic consequences… it is clearly impossible to produce acute fluoride poisoning by water fluoridation.”
SOURCE: Hodge HC. (1956). Fluoride metabolism: Its significance in water fluoridation. Journal of the American Dental Association 52:307-314.
As with many other assurances made by the early fluoridation promoters, experience has shown this claim to be incorrect, and fatally so. Over the past 30 years, there have been dozens of water fluoridation accidents where toxic levels of fluoride are dumped into water as a result of malfunctioning equipment. While early fluoridation promoters claimed that such water could be “drunk for ten years or more without serious toxic consequences,” experience has repeatedly shown that people suffer acute poisoning within hours, with symptoms including burning gastric pain, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, headache, weakness, and other fever-like symptoms. Some people have died within days, including dialysis patients in both Chicago and Annapolis, Maryland.
- FDA Health Alert on dangers posed to dialysis patients during a fluoridation accident.
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