For 61 years it’s been dubbed the magic bullet. Fluoride has long been credited with helping prevent cavities. But too much fluoride can be hazardous to your health. It’s why most European countries refuse to add fluoride to their water and why our government requires a warning on the back of your toothpaste that if you swallow too much you should contact poison control.
It’s not surprising to find fluoride in your water. The problem is we’re also getting fluoride in our food. It’s caused some people to wonder if it’s possible to get too much of a good thing.
“To me it’s the worst fraud ever perpetuated on, particularly, our city of Brainerd,” said James Wallin, the Mayor of Brainerd.
Wallin first waded in on the fluoride debate in the 1970s. As a Brainerd city council member he fought to keep the city’s water free from fluoride. The city cited studies that showed too much fluoride could lead to health dangers — including hip fractures, thyroid problems, decreased IQs, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer.
It was a fight the council took all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, but lost. In 1983 Brainerd was forced to fluoridate its water.
26 years later, Wallin, now the Mayor of Brainerd, feels stronger than ever that fluoride shouldn’t be forced on the people of his city.
“The more you read about fluoride and the history of it and what it does to people, it’s scary stuff,” he said.
The city even installed a tap outside its water treatment plant where citizens can fill up jugs with unfluoridated water.
Minnesota requires all municipalities to fluoridate their water, but limits the amount of fluoride added to what the state considers optimal levels. Levels most dentists like Dr. Kim Harms credit with keeping people’s teeth healthy.
“Fluoride decreases the amount of decay by 20 to 40 percent,” said Dr. Harms, who is also a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. “Right now there are no risks to optimally adjusted fluoride in the water.”
As a dentist for 25 years, Dr. Harms has worked in communities with and without fluoride. She said she’s seen fewer problems in places where it’s been added into the water.
“I’m really grateful for my patients and my family to be here in Minnesota and to have optimally fluoridated water because of the benefits of that fluoride,” she said.
Wisconsin Community Without Fluoride
“All the research we’ve done has shown us that the benefit isn’t there,” said Dan Hedrington, Mayor of Chippewa Falls.
Chippewa Falls Wisconsin touts having the purest water in the world. Residents have voted on whether to add fluoride to their water three times in the last 30 years. The most recent vote was overwhelmingly in favor of leaving fluoride out.
“70 percent of the people said don’t add anything to our water. We’re proud of it and we like it the way it is. It’s safe, it’s pure, it’s clean and we love to drink it,” said Hedrington. “We don’t want it. We don’t need it.”
In Chippewa Falls water draws business. It’s home to Leinenkugel Brewing Company and Premium Waters, the nation’s largest independent bottled water plant.
Some cities point to a controversial study done in 1990 where Dr. Phyllis Mullenix gave lab rats fluoridated water. She found pregnant mothers gave birth to hyperactive babies. Those babies remained hyperactive throughout their lives. Dr. Mullenix told WCCO-TV she doesn’t think fluoride stops there. She thinks fluoride affects the entire body.
University Of Minnesota May Provide Answers
“We were surprised at the sources of fluoride,” said Dr. John Heims, a professor at the University of Minnesota. “We forget that most beverages that we drink, apple juice, orange juice or if we make our soup at home and add tap water — that also has fluoride as well.”
The University of Minnesota developed a new tool which makes it possible to find out how much fluoride individuals consume on a daily basis. To see how it works Terri took samples of everything she drank in one day and kept track of all of the food she ate. Each sample was then measured for the amount of fluoride.
There’s fluoride in just about everything imaginable, from French fries to M&Ms.
“The amount you get in foods tends to be small,” said Dr. Heims.
The biggest dose of fluoride found in WCCO’s samples was the green tea. It had one and a half times as much fluoride as normal fluoridated tap water. Yet our test cases with normal daily menus resulted in fluoride intake levels that are considered safe.
The University of Minnesota just developed this tool. It is hoped this will help researchers answer some of these questions.
But one thing that has already been learned is that certain foods are naturally attracted to fluoride. For example, tea tends to soak up fluoride not only when the plant is growing, but also when it is being brewed. So the amount of fluoride in your tea can vary depending on where it was purchased and how long it seeps.