When I joined the mayoral commission to study the issue of municipal water fluoridation in 2004, I was fairly certain adding fluoride to city water was not the best approach to dental health.
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I also had some concerns about the ethics and safety of adding a medicine and waste product to the water system, which virtually forces everyone to consume, bathe in and breathe it. After three years of study, my stance has evolved to a deeper and more urgent level of concern.
For those who believe they, or their children, need fluoride - it's everywhere! Almost all canned foods have high levels of fluoride. Virtually all toothpastes contain fluoride. Your dentist can apply fluoride to your teeth. Public health will give out sodium fluoride tablets and drops for free. Grapes, corn, chicken, fish, tea are all high in fluoride. Fluoride is not a necessary element for human life. In fact, in relatively small doses, it is toxic. Remember, fluoride accumulates. About 50 percent of all the fluoride you have ever ingested is still in your body and will remain there, in the bones, in the kidneys, in the brain and, yes, on your teeth. This is likely the way fluoride confers long-term damage to susceptible individuals.
Fluoridation advocates cite "60 years of public health research" to support the idea. About 60 years ago it was noted that areas of the country (Colorado and Texas) where aquifer-derived water was naturally high in fluoride, kids had more dental fluorosis (permanent dental staining) and, arguably, fewer cavities. This naturally occurring fluoride is calcium fluoride, which is almost insoluble, meaning it doesn't bind well to internal tissues, such as bones and kidneys.
The soluble chemical, sodium fluoride, which is what is typically added to city water, is considered more toxic than lead and almost as toxic as arsenic, in comparable amounts. Sodium fluoride is 20 times more toxic than the naturally occurring calcium fluoride. The lethal dose for calcium fluoride in humans is 5,000 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. The lethal dose of sodium fluoride in humans is 250 mg per kg of body weight.
No studies on the toxicology of sodium fluoride in humans were undertaken at the beginning of the fluoridation experiment in 1945, nor have any such studies been conducted since.
Can you imagine our government in 2007 mandating the addition of another biologically active substance to everyone's water supply - with no safety data, only marginal efficacy data and amidst a good deal of public protest? Can we learn anything from the fact that all of the European Union countries (except Ireland and parts of England) have rejected fluoridation?
Fluoridation proponents claim a 20 to 40 percent improvement in dental caries (cavities) rates in fluoridated cities. This is based on a small portion of one study of about 39,000 school children that followed dental caries rates in 1986-87. Only about 8,000 of these children fit the forgone conclusion (fluoridation is good), while the data from the other 31,000 children was rejected.
In reality, caries rates are no different in fluoridated versus nonfluoridated communities. To list just one (of many) references making this point is Yiamouyiannis JA (1990) "Water Fluoridation and Tooth Decay: Results from the 1986-87 National Survey of U.S. Schoolchildren," Fluoride, 23, 55-67, which analyzes the data from all 39,000 children. Since 1990, 149 communities in North America (including Juneau) have discontinued fluoridation of their water.
Fluoride is clearly not the answer to dental caries. Overall, as oral hygiene has improved, the general trend for caries rates continues downward, regardless of fluoridation status. A huge amount of early childhood caries is caused by bottle feeding with high-sugar formula or juices, in which these sugary liquids sit on the teeth and literally make them rot. Sugary drinks also cause obesity and diabetes. Adding fluoride to the water is not the solution to any of our public health problems.
Part of the solution is to take as much personal responsibility for your health as possible. Stay informed and make choices. Please vote no to enforced fluoridation on Oct. 2.
Emily Kane is a naturopathic doctor and Juneau resident.