Those who questioned the use of fluoride in the municipal water supply were once thought to be wacky, like the U.S. general in the 1964 classic movie Dr. Strangelove. Today, years after that Hollywood portrayal of fluoridation as a communist plot, the public has every reason to wonder — and worry — whether the chemical continues to have a rightful place in our drinking water.
For their own health and that of their children, Calgarians should get behind Ald. Druh Farrell’s bid to review the body of research that’s accumulated in the 10 years since the city’s last plebiscite on the issue. The latest studies are compelling, and link fluoride exposure to everything from hyperthyroidism, to lower IQs in children and bone cancer in teen boys.
Scientists can’t even say for certain fluoride in the water is responsible for the victory in the fight against tooth decay — half of Canadian children under 11 have no cavities according to some reports. There are those who now think the benefit of fluoride comes more from applying it directly to the teeth — with tooth paste, for instance — than by swallowing it.
A review of the new evidence might also reveal the current level needs adjusting. Calgary, according to Farrell, has already cut the level in half to the current 0.7 parts per one million, below Canada Health’s recommended 0.8 ppm.
Among the problems caused by excess fluoride exposure is fluorosis — when white specs appear on a child’s teeth. The Canadian Dental Association concedes the condition seems to be increasing among children, but maintains it’s “mainly a cosmetic condition. In more severe cases, it can be easily treated by the dentist,” says the CDA website.
Nevertheless, peer-reviewed research linking fluoridation with more serious diseases shouldn’t be ignored.
A 2006 paper produced by Harvard University researchers found boys were at greater risk of developing bone cancer during their teenage years if exposed to more fluoride during the critical bone-growth years of five- to 10-year-olds.
It’s also been linked to other health problems such as reduced thyroid activity and lower IQ in children. In addition, the American Dental Association warned against using fluoridated water when mixing infant formula.
Even Dr. Hardy Limeback, head of preventive dentistry at the University of Toronto, officially opposes fluoridation.
“A lifetime of excessive fluoride ingestion will undoubtedly have detrimental effects on a number of biological systems in the body and it is illogical to assume that tooth enamel is the only tissue affected by low daily doses of fluoride ingestion,” he writes. “Fluoride is a proven carcinogen in humans exposed to high industrial levels.”
Health Canada has its own body of science to support the agency’s continued use of fluoridation as a cost-effective way of promoting strong teeth. It has yet to list the chemical as a carcinogen.
Those on either side of the heated issue will continue to argue the pros and cons of fluoridation. And we can agree or disagree with Farrell’s opposition of “medicating our drinking water.” Either way,
Calgarians should make themselves as fully informed as possible about the latest research. While the verdict is out on the dangers of too much fluoride, it’s safe to agree no harm will come from joining the renewed conversation.
© The Calgary Herald 2008