“Smile in Style” is what the county health department calls its program to promote dental health among school children. Through this program, part of a statewide effort, kids are educated about dental hygiene and the proper way to brush and floss.
To that extent, it’s a terrific idea — learning how to take care of your teeth when you’re young can prevent all manner of problems later on.
Unfortunately, the program doesn’t stop there. “Smile in Style” also makes dietary fluoride supplements available to children in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria, areas whose water supply does not contain what the health department defines as the “optimal fluoride concentration.”
In a nod to individual rights and personal choice, the county asks for parental consent before giving any children the fluoride supplements. Nonetheless, there remains a problem. A true choice can be made only when adequate information is available, and in the case of “Smiles in Style,” the only information provided to parents is pro-fluoride propaganda.
In a recent commentary in the News-Press, two county health officials addressed the fluoride issue. “Fluoride supplement programs,” they wrote, “have been shown to be effective in preventing dental caries. When taken systematically through the water or with tablets, fluoride strengthens the enamel of the tooth … The safety and effectiveness of fluoride is well documented ….”
With all due respect, we must take issue.
Take a look at the tube of toothpaste in your home medicine cabinet. If it contains fluoride — and chances are it does — it’s emblazoned with a health warning. Required by the Food and Drug Administration since 1997, the warning cautions that children between the ages of 2 and 6 should be allowed to use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and that their brushing should be supervised to minimize swallowing.
The warning also advises parents to keep fluoride toothpaste out of the reach of children under 6, and it concludes with the chilling suggestion: “In case of accidental ingestion … contact a Poison Control Center immediately.”
Fluoride is, in fact, highly toxic in large doses. Indeed, it used to be sold as a rat poison.
Ever since the 1950s, we have been told that our water systems should be fluoridated to prevent cavities. The fluoridation movement swept the country, and those who opposed it were derided as conspiracy buffs and right-wing nuts.
In recent years, however, a growing body of research has raised serious questions about long-term fluoride use, indicating it may cause health problems such as cancer, mental impairment, brittle bones and fluorosis — a splotching of the teeth due to weak enamel.
Research also suggests that fluoride is not the cavity-fighter it has been touted to be. Yes, cavity rates have declined in the United States. But they have declined just as much in Western Europe, which is almost completely unfluoridated.
One result of all this new knowledge is that opposition to fluoridation has become much more mainstream. For instance, the labor union that represents professionals at the federal Environmental Protection Agency has demanded that workers at EPA headquarters be provided with unfluoridated bottled water. Among other things, the union cites “the lack of benefit to dental health” and the “chronic toxic hazards of gene mutations, cancer, reproductive effects, neurotoxicity, bone pathology and dental fluorosis.”
For its part, California remains one of the least fluoridated states in the union, and attempts to change that generally provoke vociferous citizen opposition. Two years ago, Santa Cruz voters passed a ballot measure prohibiting fluoride, and a citizens group in Los Angeles has filed a lawsuit to halt fluoridation there.
Last year Santa Barbara officials did the right thing by defying state regulations and voting against fluoridation. Such efforts should be extended across Santa Barbara County and California as a whole.
If some people think it makes sense to add a potentially toxic compound to their drinking water, that’s their business. But the idea that we should be contaminating water, soil, the oceans, and exposing wildlife and people involuntarily to this chemical, simply has no place in the 21st century.