|ater 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.|
|By Paul Connett, PhD|
Toronto adds poisonous fluoride to your drinking water. It’s a toxic waste product and many health officials decry its use as causing bone cancer, mottled teeth and for being ineffective at reducing cavities when drunk.
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 US 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 whom 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:
1) It violates the individual’s right to informed consent to medication.
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 3 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:
1) Children can have perfectly good teeth without being exposed to fluoride.
Fluoridation is INEFFECTIVE because:
1) 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).
Fluoridation is UNSAFE because:
1) 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.
Fluoridation is INEQUITABLE, because:
1) It will go to all households, and the poor cannot afford to avoid it, if they want to, because they will not be able to purchase bottled water or expensive removal equipment.
Fluoridation is INEFFICIENT and NOT COST-EFFECTIVE because:
1) Only a small fraction of the water fluoridated actually reaches the target. Most of it ends up being used to wash the dishes, to flush the toilet or to water our lawns and gardens.
Fluoridation is UNSCIENTIFICALLY PROMOTED. For example:
1) In 1950, the US Public Health Service enthusiastically endorsed fluoridation before one single trial had been completed.
Fluoridation is UNDEFENDABLE IN OPEN PUBLIC DEBATE.
The proponents of water fluoridation refuse to defend this practice in open debate because they know that they would lose that debate. A vast majority of the health officials around the US and in other countries who promote water fluoridation do so based upon someone else’s advice and not based upon a first hand familiarity with the scientific literature. This second hand information produces second rate confidence when they are challenged to defend their position. Their position has more to do with faith than it does with reason.
Those who pull the strings of these public health ‘puppets’, do know the issues, and are cynically playing for time and hoping that they can continue to fool people with the recitation of a long list of “authorities” which support fluoridation instead of engaging the key issues. As Brian Martin made clear in his book Scientific Knowledge in Controversy: The Social Dynamics of the Fluoridation Debate (1991), the promotion of fluoridation is based upon the exercise of political power not on rational analysis. The question to answer, therefore, is: “Why is the US Public Health Service choosing to exercise its power in this way?”
Motivations – especially those which have operated over several generations of decision makers – are always difficult to ascertain. However, whether intended or not, fluoridation has served to distract us from several key issues. It has distracted us from:
a) The failure of one of the richest countries in the world to provide decent dental care for poor people.
So while fluoridation is neither effective nor safe, it continues to provide a convenient cover for many of the interests which stand to profit from the public being misinformed about fluoride.
Unfortunately, because government officials have put so much of their credibility on the line defending fluoridation, it will be very difficult for them to speak honestly and openly about the issue. As with the case of mercury amalgams, it is difficult for institutions such as the American Dental Association to concede health risks because of the liabilities waiting in the wings if they were to do so.
However, difficult as it may be, it is nonetheless essential – in order to protect millions of people from unnecessary harm – that the US Government begin to move away from its anachronistic, and increasingly absurd, status quo on this issue. There are precedents. They were able to do this with hormone replacement therapy.
But getting any honest action out of the US Government on this is going to be difficult. Effecting change is like driving a nail through wood – science can sharpen the nail but we need the weight of public opinion to drive it home. Thus, it is going to require a sustained effort to educate the American people and then recruiting their help to put sustained pressure on our political representatives. At the very least we need a moratorium on fluoridation (which simply means turning off the tap for a few months) until there has been a full Congressional hearing on the key issues with testimony offered by scientists on both sides. With the issue of education we are in better shape than ever before. Most of the key studies are available on the internet and there are videotaped interviews with many of the scientists and protagonists whose work has been so important to a modern re-evaluation of this issue.
With this new information, more and more communities are rejecting new fluoridation proposals at the local level. On the national level, there have been some hopeful developments as well, such as the EPA Headquarters Union coming out against fluoridation and the Sierra Club seeking to have the issue re-examined. However, there is still a huge need for other national groups to get involved in order to make this the national issue it desperately needs to be.
I hope that if there are RFW readers who disagree with me on this, they will rebut these arguments. If they can’t than I hope they will get off the fence and help end one of the silliest policies ever inflicted on the citizens of the US. It is time to end this folly of water fluoridation without further delay. It is not going to be easy. Fluoridation represents a very powerful “belief system” backed up by special interests and by entrenched governmental power and influence.
Paul Connett. All references cited can be found at http://www.slweb.org/bibliography.html
All references cited can be found at http://www.slweb.org/bibliography.html