For the past seventy years, a host of scientific and public health bodies in the United States have strongly endorsed the practice of adding fluoride compounds to public water supplies as a prophylactic against dental caries. Throughout that period, a constant undercurrent of skepticism and outright opposition has slowed the adoption of the practice in the United States and limited its spread to just a handful of countries around the world. One of the attractions of water fluoridation is its affordability: the fluoride compounds are sourced from the phosphate and aluminum industries, for whom they would otherwise constitute an annoying waste disposal problem. Despite this, proponents have nonetheless succeeded in shaping a narrative that casts fluoridation as “natural” or at least mimicking nature. I demonstrate how fluoridationists were able to persuasively argue that adding a pollutant to the water supply was safe and natural. In the process, I examine how environmental historians and historians of science approach topics such as fluoridation. I suggest that as a result of the influence of science and technology studies and an ontological turn toward hybridity, the two subdisciplines are becoming increasingly convergent.
Funders who supported this work.
NLM [ National Library of Medicine]
NIH [National Institutes of Health]
HHS [Health and Human Services]
Grant ID: G13 LM012780
*Original abstract online at https://europepmc.org/article/MED/30428720