One might paraphrase Hamlet and say, “To fluoridate or not to fluoridate, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of chemical poisons, or to take arms against a sea of bad science, and, by opposing, end them?”
Fluoride pollution is one of the most misunderstood controversies in recent times. The old science that led to the widespread use of fluoride in dentistry and in our water supply had many unacknowledged flaws, and there may have been a broad government cover-up of such flaws.
Current research shows some devastating health effects from the uses of the chemical. For one example: A Harvard University study done in conjunction with China University makes a good case for prolonged fluoride in children’s water leading to a reduction in IQ, while a New Zealand study shows that there is no effect on IQ from fluoride. Who should you believe?
You may expect me to make a clear case for or against fluoride in our water, toothpaste, etc. Alas, I cannot do this in spite of my obvious bias against fluoride in drinking water. Actually, there is good evidence that fluoride in toothpaste is good for children’s teeth. And there is now good evidence that fluoride in drinking water may lead to many neurological and other problems. On both sides, the science is questionable, but there are some relative certainties, as well, and I’ll try to emphasize these.
What is fluoride?
Fluorine, chemical symbol F, is one of the lighter of the 100-plus elemental chemicals found on our planet. If one compounds fluorine with another element to make a salt or an acid, then one gets a fluoride ion, and this is what’s put in our water and toothpaste. The primary chemical used in fluoridation of water is fluorosalicic acid, which is a toxic byproduct of phosphate fertilizer manufacture that often contains arsenic, lead and other toxins.
The CDC has a lot to say about this compound:
First, “Avoid all contact, and in all cases, consult a doctor.”
“Gives off irritating or toxic fumes in a fire.” If inhaled, it results in “a burning sensation, cough, labored breathing and shortness of breath. Refer for medical attention.”
If touched, it produces “skin redness, pain and burning. To prevent this, use ventilation, exhaust or breathing protection. For prevention, use protective gloves and protective clothing. Immediately refer for medical attention.”
In your eyes, it will cause “redness, pain and severe deep burns. Take to a doctor.”
As to long-term use, “the substance may have (adverse) effects on the bones and teeth, resulting in fluorosis.” Fluorosis is a condition that makes your teeth look bad. It’s caused by overexposure to fluoride, especially in children 8 or younger.
And finally, if you eat, drink or smoke it, it will lead to “a burning sensation, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and shock or collapse. Refer for medical attention.”
So I have to ask: Why on Earth would I want this poison in my drinking water?
Among the main reasons it’s there is that since 1951, the National Research Council has been positive in assessing the safety and desirability of fluoridation. By 2006, it was prepared to conclude that fluoride is an element essential for human life and that fluoride in drinking water has two beneficial effects: It prevents tooth decay and helps bone growth and stabilization.
An alternative fluoride
In Newburyport, Newbury and West Newbury, the somewhat-less-noxious sodium fluoride (NaF) is used in the drinking water. Amesbury and Rowley do not add fluoride to their water.
The fluoride from NaF has serious health downsides, as well. Fluorides inhibit calcium metabolism, which is crucial in regulating coagulation and cardiac membrane potential, for example, and long-term use can lead to making bones brittle; to calcification of ligaments; and to irritation of the eyes, skin and nasal membranes.
But even if it is truly safe to add some fluoride, the Department of Health and Human Services now recommends a dosage of fluoride that is no more than 0.7 milligrams per liter of water, or 0.7 parts per million. Alas, however, Newburyport allows our dosage to be double the recommended amount, 1.4 ppm.
So, why not fluoride?
NRC also made some startling observations in its 2006 review of EPA standards. These indicate fluoride’s effect on thyroid function, increased severity of some diabetes, possible effect on fertility, bladder cancer and the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
NRC’s companion organization, the National Academy of Sciences, published in 2006 a 500-page review of fluoride’s toxicity, concluding that fluoride is an “endocrine disruptor.” That mean that it can have negative effects on many organs, including your bones, brain, intelligence, thyroid and pineal glands, as well as blood sugar levels.
By 2012, there were about three dozen studies done by Harvard, UNICEF and others showing a correlation between fluoride consumption in children and a decrease in IQ, not to mention ADHD, genetic damage, immune disruption and more.
And there is the ethical issue. The fact is that you and I and our children are being medicated with fluoride without our permission. Chlorine is added to water to kill bacteria so that we can drink the water. Fluoride, on the other hand, is added to prevent a disease that’s unrelated to water. Some claim that fluoride is a nutrient, but the FDA disagrees, stating that fluoride is a medication when used to treat a disease. Adding fluoride to water to prevent tooth decay is indeed forcing us to take a medication, thus denying us the right to decide what drug to take, as we can do with our doctor.
Further, studies have shown that fluoride’s main dental benefit comes not from ingestion, but by topical application — in toothpaste, for example. And it’s very hard to find a toothpaste that does not contain fluoride.
Am I biased against fluoride?
In principle, I am not opposed to fluoride. It appears to have truly beneficial effects on tooth decay when applied topically, and it is found in many naturally occurring water sources, sometimes in trace amounts and sometimes in very high amounts. In addition, it’s found, not so naturally, in many of the foods and drinks we consume.
I readily admit that the science used both by proponents and opponents to fluoride in drinking water is not as consistent and rigorous as it might be. However, the preponderance of the evidence we have seems to suggest that there is little tooth decay benefit from fluoride in drinking water and that there are many possible physiological and neurological downsides associated with it.
But mostly I resent being medicated without my permission.
And so the preponderance of ethical and scientific evidence leads me to feel that it is inappropriate for our governments to add fluoride to our drinking water.
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Bob Keller maintains a holistic practice in Newburyport. He offers medical massage therapy for pain relief and advice on muscular balance and diet, as well as psychological counseling, dream work and spiritual direction.