‘Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face?” asks General Jack D. Ripper, the character in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 movie, “Dr. Strangelove.” “On no account will a commie ever drink water, and not without good reason.” There was a time when fear of fluoride was thought of as a hobgoblin of the paranoid right, and all right-thinking people knew that adding fluoride to public drinking-water supplies held innumerable benefits for the public’s dental health. While we’re slightly less impassioned than General Ripper on this issue, as time has passed, we’ve come to believe he just might have been onto something.
Currently, New York City has suspended fluoridation while replacing equipment at the Kensico Reservoir at Westchester. The practice is scheduled to resume in May. So it’s a perfect opportunity to ask what would happen if the city simply never resumed adding fluoride to our drinking water. First off, the city would save $6 million dollars a year, according to a spokesman for City of New York’s Department of Environmental Protection. He told The Sun that this is the cost of purchasing the chemical alone — not taking into account the expense of adding the chemical to the water at a concentration of about one part per million and monitoring the level of it. At the same time, it is unlikely that New Yorkers would see any degradation of dental health. Studies have shown that the positive effects of fluoride have been exaggerated. One study, in the Journal of Dental Research, concluded that tooth decay rates in Western Europe, which is almost entirely devoid of fluoridation, have declined at roughly the same rate as in America in recent decades. Germany, France, Sweden, and Holland all ban fluoridation. Only America is obsessed with lacing our water with supposedly teeth-fortifying chemicals.
New Yorkers got along fine without fluoride in the water for centuries until 1965, when the city’s Board of Health authorized adding the chemical. And if we took advantage of the current pause to stop this experiment for good, New Yorkers would still get plenty of fluoride on their teeth, if they wanted it, from their toothpaste. In fact, over-fluoridation of teeth, particularly children’s, is becoming a concern as people are exposed to more and more sources of fluoride. According to the February 2002 cover story of the Journal of the American Dental Association, higher levels of fluoride in drinking water correlate with higher incidence of a condition called fluorosis — a disruption in tooth enamel formation that can create white streaks on teeth. Though fluorosis is a cosmetic condition with no other known health effects, it seems irresponsible for the city to literally pour fluoride down the throats of New Yorkers. Most of the stuff ends up being used to wash cars and dishes, anyway, as bottled, non-fluoridated drinking water has become increasingly popular for uses that involve tooth contact. And given that other vague health concerns about fluoride have been floating around for years, such as the chemical being tied to cancer and low I.Q., it seems particularly irresponsible of the city to force-feed it to its citizens. After all, we live, alas, in the age of trial lawyers, and you never know. There was a time when lead, asbestos, and cigarettes all had the endorsement of the government, too.