Signs have been popping up in the New River Valley. I do not mean the political signs, though there are plenty of those, too, but the blue ones that read, “End water fluoridation.”
If you have not seen one yet, head on over to Eats Natural Foods in Blacksburg. Customers walking in the front door looking for bulk granola cannot miss the signs, pamphlets and petition, all from Fluoride Free NRV.
Becky Farnham, co-owner of Eats, explained, “It’s something that some people feel is beneficial and some people think is a poison. We carry toothpaste that doesn’t have fluoride, for example.”
Asked if the store’s owners are supporting elimination of fluoridation in drinking water, she said, “I guess by default we are.” She added that the store is not actively involved in the campaign, just providing a space for the literature.
The real driving force behind Fluoride Free NRV is Blacksburg resident Dan Steinberg, who also supports natural health, eating locally grown food and grass-fed beef.
“I wanted to let the public know that this is a significant issue for a lot of people,” he said.
One has to respect his passion. He is genuinely concerned about public health and is working to make the world better, at least as he sees it.
Steinberg claims fluoride is not effective at preventing cavities and that people can do fine just by getting enough vitamins D and K. He also says it is unethical for the government to deny people the chance to make an informed decision about what is at its core a medical treatment.
Like so many conspiracy theories, his arguments sound plausible, at least in isolation. Fluoride can be dangerous in quantities far in excess of what treated drinking water contains.
Yet talking to Steinberg and reviewing anti-fluoride treatises and websites reminded me of climate change deniers. Both groups cling tenaciously to a handful of scientists and studies that they say prove they are right.
He cites a National Academy of Sciences study that he says links fluoride in water to impaired thyroid function. He pulls out another from Harvard that links high levels of fluoride exposure to reduced intelligence.
Just like climate change deniers, a mountain of contrary evidence stands against Steinberg. The scientific and medical consensus is that fluoridated drinking water is a public health triumph. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control rank it as one of the top 10 great public health achievements of the 20thcentury, right up there with vaccinations, recognition of tobacco’s risks and healthier mothers and babies.
Steinberg called that “preposterous.” In his world, liars control the government and medical associations.
“Organizations like the CDC have staked their reputations on this. They won’t admit they are wrong,” he said.
The American Dental Association, National Dental Association, American Medical Association, World Health Organization and other groups of experts all endorse fluoridating drinking water because it works. It gets into the enamel and shields teeth against cavity-causing acid generated by plaque.
“Fluoridated water is most important for children who do not see the dentist enough,” said Dr. Michael Ankrum, who has practiced dentistry in Blacksburg for 34 years.
Then, laying the usual dental guilt trip on me, Ankrum pointed out that fluoridated water is no replacement for brushing and flossing, which are the essential foundation for healthy teeth.
He said he has seen the benefit of fluoride in patients over the years, especially among those who do not take care of their teeth as well as they should.
He concedes, however, that the need for public fluoridation is less today than when Grand Rapids, Mich., became the first city to fluoridate its water in 1945. “The public is better educated today. Parents are doing a better job,” he said.
Federal officials recently reduced recommended fluoride levels for public drinking water. They used to call for a range of .7 parts per million to 1.2 ppm. The recommendation is now .7ppm for everyone.
The Blacksburg Christiansburg VPI Water Authority has already reduced its fluoride levels to conform, according to authority Superintendent Jerry Higgins.
The authority received a 2011 Community Fluoridation Reaffirmation award for its efforts from the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors, CDC and American Dental Association.
People who do not want fluoride can always buy that fluoride-free toothpaste at Eats and install a filter to remove it from their tap water. Catering to their unwarranted fears would be to the detriment of everyone else’s teeth.
Steinberg has lobbied Higgins and the water authority board, but he has not found a receptive audience.
“I knew I probably wouldn’t succeed in getting them to stop,” he said. “I knew it would be a difficult, uphill battle, but I’m still glad I did it.”
I might disagree with him, but I am glad he does it. People should never passively accept the edicts of science and government. I just hope that now that he has made his case, everyone sees how empty it really is.