With city council elections coming up, Raleigh’s attempt to commandeer Asheville’s water system remains in court. A related concern has been put off long enough.
For 50 years, Asheville has medicated its water customers with fluoride. City voters approved, and the practice began in 1965. County voters had previously opposed fluoridation, but the N.C. Supreme Court ruled that because the city owns the system, county water customers get no vote. So for most of Buncombe County, with or without a say, this is our water, for drinking, bathing and cooking.
Science has continued to question and learn. Today we know that nearly all of fluoride’s effect occurs via surface contact to teeth. Swallowing is not necessary. When fluoride is swallowed, healthy kidneys excrete about half. The remainder accumulates in the body over time.
Too much fluoride over many years can pose serious risks of unknown proportion, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences confirmed in its 2006 report, “Fluoride in Drinking Water.” A committee examined a wide body of research and said long-term excess fluoride may weaken teeth and bones and may contribute to bone fractures. It expressed potential concerns about side effects in children, kidney patients, the brain, the thyroid, possibly even cancer.
Exposure keeps adding up. Fluoride has been added to toothpastes, mouthwashes, tooth sealants and other dental products. It’s in processed foods, commercial beverages made from fluoridated water, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, cigarette smoke. Even a liter of ordinary tea can provide a full daily dose, reports Wikipedia, since the tea plant has an unusual propensity to take up fluoride from soil.
Fluoride is toxic, says the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Relative to body weight, fluoridated water delivers its highest dose to children. There is “substantial evidence of developmental neurotoxicity,” says the EPA.
“Children in high fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low fluoride areas,” a Harvard School of Public Health study reported in 2012.
Soft water fluoridation can lead to blood levels four times higher than hard water fluoridation, University of California chemist Dr. Richard Sauerheber has reported. Asheville’s water is soft.
Water fluoridation is reported to reach about 60 percent of people in the U.S. and about 6 percent worldwide. Cavities have declined similarly in places that do and don’t fluoridate water or salt, said a 2007 study of European Union children.
Despite fluoridation, tooth decay remains the leading chronic disease among American children, especially the disadvantaged. Fluoride may promote cavities in the under-nourished, said a 2014 study in The Scientific World Journal. Fluoride is not a nutrient, but it competes with essential nutrients including magnesium, calcium and iodine.
In 2008, two medical doctors and a dentist asked Asheville City Council to reconsider water fluoridation. Fluoride supporters shot back with accusations of “junk science.” Herein lies an idea. Can we direct this same passion toward junk food?
The sugar industry has strongly influenced dental research to promote fluoridation and other interventions, instead of discouraging sugar consumption, the journal PLOS Medicine reported earlier this year.
Among Nigerian adults eating little sugar, only 2 percent had experienced tooth decay, compared to 92 percent of U.S. adults, a University College London study reported in 2014. Nigeria’s water is not fluoridated.
Loma Linda University, the alma mater of many fine Asheville dentists, explained sugar’s role as a hormone disruptor that induced cavities in test animals, even when sugar never touched the teeth.
In his landmark 1934 study, “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,” the late Dr. Weston Price documented the excellent teeth and healthy bodies enjoyed by indigenous cultures eating traditional foods. It was a pivotal time, and he also recorded the rapid breakdown in oral and whole health after sugar and other modern “foods” arrived. This book is a foundation of today’s local foods movement. Our farm and food communities are paying attention and leading us back to what is real.
We have a long way to go. As of 2009, the average teen American boy was eating 109 pounds of sugar a year, the USDA reports. Water fluoridation won’t fix that.
As a dentist, I have no complaint with the selective use of fluoride by doctors and patients. All medications have risks. But the city of Asheville is not a doctor and should not be medicating our entire community, without regard to individual health or dose. It’s time to end this fluoridation experiment and redirect our resources to more productive strategies for building our community’s health.
This is the opinion of Dr. Phil Davis, who practices general dentistry in Asheville.