Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that the CDC worked hand-in-hand with the American Dental Association (ADA) to plan campaigns to minimize findings that water fluoridation has a larger negative impact, primarily on African Americans, in terms of dental fluorosis, a tooth defect caused by too much fluoride.
The documents include emails between the CDC and ADA discussing how to minimize potential harm to water fluoridation programs after former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and African American minister Gerald Durley came out against water fluoridation in 2011.
“When civil rights leaders started speaking out in 2011, we see in the FOIA documents how the CDC and dental representatives reacted,” said Dan Stockin, a career public health professional with toxics assessment and hazardous materials management work who filed the FOIA. Stockin works with The Lillie Center Inc., a Georgia-based firm working to end water fluoridation. “They were concerned that the talking point about fluorides helping minorities would be changed.”
The CDC has long maintained that water fluoridation is particularly important in low-income, minority communities where children often lack access to dental care. CDC and the ADA maintain that water fluoridation is safe and effective, and prevents poor children from having cavities that can lead to tooth loss and severe pain when untreated. But government research has shown dental fluorosis rates nearly doubled from the late 1980s through the latest period studied, 1999 to 2004, from 23 to 41 percent. Studies show that dental fluorosis is more severe and more prevalent in African American children with rates of 58 percent compared to 36 percent for white children. That represents a rate 61 percent higher for African Americans than in non-Hispanic whites.
Stockin said the FOIA documents show “how officials worked desperately to stop this story from spreading.”
“From the perspective of fluoridation promoters, the issue of disproportionate harm to African Americans from ingested fluorides is strongly supported by science,” Stockin said in an email July 6 to Hot Springs anti-fluoridation activist Crystal Harvey, who is also discussed in the FOIA documents. “Fluorides disproportionately harm blacks and Hispanics through several mechanisms. This is one of the key issues in Fluoridegate (the name for federal and state investigations and hearings being requested by fluoride opponents), how officials worked desperately to stop this story from spreading.”
“We believe this issue has the potential to gain traction,” a CDC official said in the documents. “This may be a significant threat, especially if other cities/mayors/councils/legislatures see fluoridation as an intervention that creates fluorosis disparities rather than reducing disparities for tooth decay.”
One CDC official involved in the effort to minimize the harm from the dental fluorosis findings said anti-fluoridationists have sunk to a new low using “race baiting” tactics.
The CDC says water fluoridation saves money because children in non-fluoridated communities have twice the cost of dental services as children in fluoridated communities. But Harvey maintains that dental fluorosis is linked to lower IQs and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children, and can cost thousands of dollars for dentists to treat the tooth damage. Harvey, who has fought water fluoridation in Arkansas for more than 25 years, said she was ridiculed and mocked by officials in the 2011 FOIA materials.
“They also made fun of Joe Walls, the Arkansas water operator splashed with fluoride that ruined his health,” said Harvey, who led a campaign resulting in Hot Springs voters rejecting water fluoridation. “Instead of them looking into the concerns we have, they are too busy acting like cats in a sandbox trying to cover up everything. There is something wrong with that. All that time they spent covering it up could have been spent protecting the health of our children, warning parents about the dangers of too much fluoride.”
Fluoride opponents are critical of the CDC for trying to conceal the harm rather than warning millions of parents that they should not use fluoridated tap water to mix infant formula, and should closely supervise tooth brushing by young children so they don’t use too much fluoridated toothpaste, or swallow it.