It’s estimated that nearly every major city in the United States has fluoridated drinking water. And that has state Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani wondering why Las Vegas hasn’t joined the rank and file.
Fluoridation is, after all, touted by the American Dental Association and 71 other national and international professional organizations as being the most effective tool to reduce tooth decay.
Various studies, cited by the Centers for Disease Control, proclaim that communities that fluoridate their water systems have seen dental decay in permanent teeth reduced from between 17 and 40 percent.
Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, introduced Assembly Bill 489 at the 1997 Legislature that would have mandated fluoride be added to drinking water throughout the state.
The bill ended up in the Ways and Means Committee and was never voted on before the Legislature went into recess. Now she’s preparing to re-introduce it again shortly after legislators reconvene for the 1999 session.
The CDC reports that more than 144 million people in the United States are presently being supplied water with fluoride. To promote the campaign further, the nation’s Healthy People 2000 plan is calling for 75 percent of the population to be served by community-based fluoride systems by the year 2000.
The CDC says that the current national average of people using fluoridated water is 62.1 percent. Nevada falls considerably short of this average with only 2.1 percent of the population using fluoridated water, provided by various independent sources.
“I lived in Las Vegas for 20 years, and I thought the water was fluoridated,” Giunchigliani said. “Then I went to the dentist one day and got a bill for liquid fluoride (treatment). That’s when I wanted to find out why Nevada doesn’t have fluoridation.”
Giunchigliani said it would cost the state about 51 cents a person per year to fluoridate the state’s drinking water by adding sodium fluoride at a ratio of no less than 0.7 parts per million (PPM). That’s a comparison of about a drop of fluoride to one bathtub full of water.
That’s not much fluoride to guarantee that Nevadans have healthy teeth and less decay.
Who could disagree with this logic?
Robert W. Hall, director of the Nevada Environmental Coalition, not only thinks fluoridating the state’s water supply is a bad idea, but could harm anyone who drinks the treated water.
“It’s the biggest con of the century,” Hall said. “I predict this will be bigger than tobacco (controversy) … Every state is being duped. Foreign countries are smarter than we are.”
Hall, who opposed AB 489 and plans to fight its passage, is among a minority of people worldwide who think fluoridation is dangerous and doesn’t really prevent tooth decay.
He says many countries in Europe have stopped fluoridating their drinking water.
Hall said he’s spent 35 years gathering information that he believes proves sodium fluoride is harmful.
The self-proclaimed independent scholar refers to, as an example, a 1997 article from the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health that states: “Since 1990, five major epidemiological studies from three countries — the United States, United Kingdom and France — show a higher rate of hip fractures in fluoridated regions …”
The study says that fluoride causes skeletal fluorosis, a condition similar to osteoporosis. It also states that studies of school children in major cities in New Zealand, Australia and the United States show “there is no detectable difference in caries (decay) prevalence.”
Another paper, “Neurotoxicity of Sodium Fluoride in Rats,” that appeared in a 1995 issue of Neurotoxicology and Teratology, said fluoride exposure may be linked to brain dysfunction. It states that because humans occasionally are exposed to high amount of fluoride … neurotoxic risks deserve further evaluation.
“I’ll issue a check today for $20,000 to anyone who can prove that this (fluoride added to water supplies) improves your teeth and doesn’t cause health problems,” Hall said. “I challenge the dentists of Nevada to debate on television. And I want to see the studies on what they base their reputation.”
Hall said fluoride is a poison, and in high doses could kill someone. He argues that low levels in drinking water and dental products — such as tooth pastes — are slowly poisoning users.
As evidence, Hall points to the warning label from a tube of Crest toothpaste. It states: “Keep out of the reach of children under 6 years of age. If you accidentally swallow more than used for brushing, seek professional help or contact a poison control center immediately.”
Hall said that too much fluoride in drinking water can also cause dental fluorosis, a discoloration of the teeth.
“I appreciate Mr. Hall and the group’s opposition to it, but not a single credible scientific study done by them is accurate,” Giunchigliani said. “It’s absolutely poppycock that fluoride causes medical problems.”
A National Research Council report in December 1993, in reviewing the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendation of maximum commitment level of 4 mg/L for fluoride in drinking water, said fluoride is “appropriate as an interim standard.”
The NRC report also disagreed with allegations that fluoride causes health problems. It states, in part, that:
* Cancer — Available laboratory data does not demonstrate a carcinogenic effect of fluoride in animals.
* Kidney disease — The threshold dose of fluoride in drinking water that produces kidney effects in animals is approximately 50 mg/L — more than 12 times the maximum allowed by national drinking water standards.
* Stomach and intestinal problems — Adverse gastrointestinal effects are not likely to result from the concentration of fluoride found in drinking water.
* Infertility and birth defects — Drinking fluoridated water at current concentrations should have no adverse effects on human reproduction.
* Genetic mutations — In several laboratory tests, fluoride has caused mutations and chromosomal damage in animal cells. But the smallest amount that produced these effects was more than 100 times greater than the average amount found in most people in the United States, offering a large margin of safety.
But Bernard Wagner, a research professor of pathology at New York University School of Medicine and committee chairman of the NRC report, cautioned that further studies were needed.
“More research is needed on patterns of fluoride exposure from other sources, such as dental products and foods, as well as fluoride’s effects on bone strength and tooth enamel,” he said. “The current standard should then be reviewed and changed, if necessary based on the results of that research.”
Fluoride was first added to drinking water on Jan. 25, 1945, in Grand Rapids, Mich. The city has been continuously fluoridating its water ever since.
John Wierenga, Water Filtration Plant supervisor in Grand Rapids, said he has never heard of any health effects in the community from fluoride.
“Like so many things in high doses, then it would be a danger,” Wierenga said. “We have seen a 67 percent reduction in decay. We haven’t had any rumors of opposition in decades.”
In 1983, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported its findings of a $10 million study involving 30,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 in 10 United States cities. Five cities were fluoridated and five were not in the four-year period.
The study, “The National Preventive Dentistry Demonstration Program,” in part concluded that the highest rate of tooth surfaces saved from decay occurred among fifth graders in fluoridated communities.
The program concluded “the overwhelming importance of water fluoridation as an extremely effective, yet inexpensive preventive measure.”
Hall, by citing other research, disagrees that fluoride drinking water reduces tooth decay. His main concern is that sodium fluoride could cause health problems later in life.
“What’s a safe level? How do you know when you have a safe level?” Hall asks. “Nobody knows. If it’s all that friendly, why have a warning on toothpaste …
“The average dentist doesn’t know what he is talking about. He is just parroting what the national (American Dental Association) says. They are not using their own independent brain. Fluoride is only slightly less toxic than arsenic.”
Dentist Robin Lobato, 34, was born and raised in Las Vegas. He says he can tell by the condition of patients’ teeth if they came from areas where drinking water was fluoridated or not.
“Large amounts of fluoride can cause bone cancer, but not if it’s regulated,” Lobato said. “There are studies out there that show bone problems and cancer, but it’s how you interpret the studies.
“I don’t know of anyone who has ever gotten sick from fluoride. I firmly believe that fluoride is good and safe in reducing tooth decay.”
However, the National Toxicology Program, at the direction of Congress, conducted studies with laboratory rats by giving them high concentrations of fluoridated water. It released its report in 1990 and concluded that fluoride did cause a rare form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma.
Several toxicologists were concerned about the report because rats who didn’t drink the fluoridated water didn’t get cancer.
The Environmental Protection Agency said the report’s results were “very preliminary data” and indicated that fluoride could be carcinogenic.
“Our government hasn’t funded one study (on people), and they won’t,” Hall said of possible health problems caused by fluoride. “Our government has an obligation to do the studies, where they are random and follow the scientific method. The government is obligated to do that before they put anything in our water.”