Fluoride is an element that occurs naturally in ground water in some locations. Many years ago, it was noticed that people who drank this water had significantly less dental decay and disease than those who lived in regions that did not have this “asset.”
The decision to add fluoride to water was akin to the addition of iodine to salt (this chemical addition virtually eliminated iodine-related thyroid disease from iodine-deficient regions, especially the Midwest). In areas where fluoride was added, then removed, the trend of reduced dental disease followed by the return of dental disease when the fluoride was removed has been well documented.
There are few scientists or health providers who doubt the benefit of low-dose fluoride on dental health. And no one can deny the agonizing effects of tooth decay. More recently we have determined that the ongoing “inflammation” of poor dental health is linked to other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and poor diabetic control.
So what is the controversy about? It is not a cost issue. The small amount of money needed to add fluoride is more than saved by the reduction in dental costs.
It is not the effectiveness of this treatment, as previously discussed. The issue seems to be based on fears regarding safety.
Since most public health initiatives must weigh the benefits to the entire community against the potential risk to a few, fluoridation is a valid area of study — and it has been studied.
The current analysis continues to support a very unlikely potential for harm. In fact, a review of all the studies ever done on fluoride has refuted cancer risk, bone issues, thyroid disease, and many other concerns.
This doesn’t mean no studies have reported this potential risk. When viewed as a whole body of evidence, however, there is little, if any, credible support for these concerns.
In looking at scientific, evidence-based information, it is critical to be aware of issues such as the quality of the study, what exactly it determines and how reproducible the study is. Much of the data reported to declare fluoride “unsafe” has been taken out of context or exaggerated in its conclusions.
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Ongoing review of health trends has always been a powerful tool in detecting risk in our environment. Observation of cholera epidemics allowed some astute doctors to determine that contaminated water was spreading this horrible disease.
It took more than 50 years to convince people not to mix sewage with drinking water, but today, cholera is uncommon in developed countries. In this same manner, ongoing evaluation of fluoride supplementation for more than 50 years has given us a substantial comfort zone regarding its safety and effectiveness. Although nothing can be absolute, it would be a mistake to remove a proven health benefit based on uncertain (at best) rare health concerns.
In these difficult economic times, I believe taking steps backward in regard to public health measures will only result in more pain and suffering for our community. We have very important issues to consider in the near future that will affect the quality of our lives and those of our children.
Fluoride supplementation is not one of them.