Editor’s note: This is the third article in a series examining water fluoridation in Mount Pleasant.
Water fluoridation, the practice of adding fluoride to municipal water supplies to fight tooth decay, is a hotly contested issue not restricted to the Mount Pleasant city limits.
Government agencies such as the American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control have said water fluoridation is a safe, effective way to fight tooth decay.
The CDC heralded water fluoridation as one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.
“The CDC’s understanding of and support for community water fluoridation is based on more than 65 years of use and research as well as an assessment of a science base developed over many years by independent scientists,” said Linda Orgain, a health communications specialist from the CDC’s Division of Oral Health in an e-mailed statement.
Mount Pleasant dentist Kenneth Egger feels water fluoridation is beneficial and the practice should continue.
Egger said he used to practice dentistry in Detroit, where a majority of residents drink municipal fluoridated water. In Mount Pleasant, many more residents drink from unfluoridated sources.
“I saw a lot fewer cavities and decay down there than I do up here,” he said.
Hardy Limeback, head of preventive dentistry at the University of Toronto and dentist of more than 27 years, formerly supported water fluoridation, but has since reconsidered.
“A lot of dentists change their minds about fluoridation when they read about the potential harm but are then afraid to speak out against the mainstream in their profession,” he said in an e-mailed response.
However, some have spoken out against water fluoridation, claiming it is not a medical miracle, but instead a toxic practice.
Paul Connett, professor emeritus of environmental chemistry at St. Lawrence University, has studied the water fluoridation issue for more than 14 years.
He said fluoride is the only chemical added to water supplies intended to treat the human body.
“The practice should never have started,” Connett said. “Using the public water supply to deliver medication is absolutely ridiculous. It defies every notion of pharmacology that you could think of.”
Connett said the dosage of fluoride intake can not be controlled because every person drinks a different amount of water.
“We’re allowing a whole community, in some cases a whole state, to do to everyone what a doctor cannot do to a single person, and that is to force them to take medication,” Connett said.
Connett said over 90 percent of the fluoride used in municipal water supplies is a hazardous waste byproduct of the phosphate fertilizer industry.
“They can’t dump it into the sea by international law, they can’t dump it locally because it’s too concentrated, it would cost them an arm and a leg to deal with it as a hazardous waste,” Connett said. “But if someone buys it from them, it becomes a product. Once it is an industrial product, it no longer is covered by hazardous waste regulations.”
Kathleen Thiessen, a senior scientist at SENES Oak Ridge Inc. Center for Risk Analysis in Tennessee, said exposure to fluoride can cause several adverse health effects. She served as a member of the National Research Council panel that studied fluoride in 2006. Some of the studies the panel reviewed showed fluoride may lower IQ during childhood development. Dental and skeletal fluorosis have also been linked to fluoride consumption.
Fluoride is biocumulative, meaning it builds up in the body after years of consumption, and makes bones harder, but more brittle, Connett said.
Connett said fluoride may also be linked to osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, in young men, as well as a decrease in thyroid function.
Though water fluoridation is marginally effective, Connet said, there is no difference in tooth decay between fluoridated and non-fluoridated countries.
Connett said the ADA and CDC continue to push for water fluoridation despite evidence that the practice is harmful and ineffective.
“It’s politics which absolutely controls and runs all the way on this issue,” Connett said. “We would love to resolve it scientifically, we have attempted to resolve the issue scientifically, but the other side has power. They have the power and the chain of command of the American Dental Association, which can fan out to every dentist in the country. It’s the most frustrating experience of my life.”