By Paul Connett, PhD
Water fluoridation is a peculiarly American phenomenon. It started at a time when asbestos lined our pipes, lead was added to gasoline, PCBs filled our transformers and DDT was deemed so “safe and effective” that officials felt no qualms spraying kids in school classrooms and seated at picnic tables. One by one all these chemicals have been banned, but fluoridation remains untouched. For over 50 years U.S. government officials have confidently and enthusiastically claimed that fluoridation is “safe and effective.”
However, they are seldom prepared to defend the practice in open public debate. Actually, there are so many arguments against fluoridation that it can get overwhelming. To simplify things it helps to separate the ethical from the scientific arguments. For those for which ethical concerns are paramount, the issue of fluoridation is very simple to resolve. It is simply not ethical; we simply shouldn’t be forcing medication on people without their “informed consent.” The bad news is that ethical arguments are not very influential in Washington, DC unless politicians are very conscious of millions of people watching them. The good news is that the ethical arguments are buttressed by solid common sense arguments and scientific studies which convincingly show that fluoridation is neither “safe and effective” nor necessary.
I have summarized the arguments in several categories:
Fluoridation is unethical because:
It violates the individual’s right to informed consent to medication. The municipality cannot control the dose of the patient. The municipality cannot track each individual’s response. It ignores the fact that some people are more vulnerable to fluoride’s toxic effects than others. Some people will suffer while others may benefit. It violates the Nuremberg code for human experimentation. As stated by the recent recipient of the Nobel Prize for Medicine (2000), Dr. Arvid Carlsson: “I am quite convinced that water fluoridation, in a not-too-distant future, will be consigned to medical history…Water fluoridation goes against leading principles of pharmacotherapy, which is progressing from a stereotyped medication — of the type 1 tablet three times a day — to a much more individualized therapy as regards both dosage and selection of drugs. The addition of drugs to the drinking water means exactly the opposite of an individualized therapy.”
As stated by Dr. Peter Mansfield, a physician from the UK and advisory board member of the recent government review of fluoridation (McDonagh et al 2000): “No physician in his right senses would prescribe for a person he has never met, whose medical history he does not know, a substance which is intended to create bodily change, with the advice: ‘Take as much as you like, but you will take it for the rest of your life because some children suffer from tooth decay. ‘ It is a preposterous notion.”
Fluoridation is unnecessary because:
Children can have perfectly good teeth without being exposed to fluoride. The promoters (CDC, 1999, 2001) admit that the benefits are topical not systemic, so fluoridated toothpaste, which is universally available, is a more rational approach to delivering fluoride to the target organ (teeth) while minimizing exposure to the rest of the body.
The vast majority of western Europe has rejected water fluoridation, but has been equally successful as the U.S., if not more so, in tackling tooth decay. If fluoride was necessary for strong teeth one would expect to find it in breast milk, but the level there is 0.01 ppm, which is 100 times LESS than in fluoridated tap water (IOM, 1997). Children in non-fluoridated communities are already getting the so-called “optimal” doses from other sources (Heller et al, 1997). In fact, many are already being over-exposed to fluoride.
Fluoridation is ineffective because:
Major dental researchers concede that fluoride’s benefits are topical not systemic (Fejerskov 1981; Carlos 1983; CDC 1999, 2001; Limeback 1999; Locker 1999; Featherstone 2000). Major dental researchers also concede that fluoride is ineffective at preventing pit and fissure tooth decay, which is 85 percent of the tooth decay experienced by children (JADA 1984; Gray 1987; White 1993; Pinkham 1999). Several studies indicate that dental decay is coming down just as fast, if not faster, in non-fluoridated industrialized countries as fluoridated ones (Diesendorf, 1986; Colquhoun, 1994; World Health Organization, Online).
The largest survey conducted in the U.S. showed only a minute difference in tooth decay between children who had lived all their lives in fluoridated compared to non-fluoridated communities. The difference was not clinically significant nor shown to be statistically significant (Brunelle & Carlos, 1990). The worst tooth decay in the U.S. occurs in the poor neighborhoods of our largest cities, the vast majority of which have been fluoridated for decades. When fluoridation has been halted in communities in Finland, former East Germany, Cuba and Canada, tooth decay did not go up but continued to go down (Maupome et al, 2001; Kunzel and Fischer, 1997, 2000; Kunzel et al, 2000 and Seppa et al, 2000).
Fluoridation is unsafe because:
It accumulates in our bones and makes them more brittle and prone to fracture. The weight of evidence from animal studies, clinical studies and epidemiological studies on this is overwhelming. Lifetime exposure to fluoride will contribute to higher rates of hip fracture in the elderly. It accumulates in our pineal gland, possibly lowering the production of melatonin, a very important regulatory hormone (Luke, 1997, 2001). It damages the enamel (dental fluorosis) of a high percentage of children. Between 30 percent and 50 percent of children have dental fluorosis on at least two teeth in optimally fluoridated communities (Heller et al, 1997 and McDonagh et al, 2000). There are serious, but yet unproven, concerns about a connection between fluoridation and osteosarcoma in young men (Cohn, 1992), as well as fluoridation and the current epidemics of both arthritis and hypothyroidism.
In animal studies fluoride at 1 ppm in drinking water increases the uptake of aluminum into the brain (Varner et al, 1998). Counties with 3 ppm or more of fluoride in their water have lower fertility rates (Freni, 1994). In human studies the fluoridating agents most commonly used in the U.S. not only increase the uptake of lead into children’s blood (Masters and Coplan, 1999, 2000) but are also associated with an increase in violent behavior. The margin of safety between the so-called therapeutic benefit of reducing dental decay and many of these end points is either nonexistent or precariously low.