Fluoride and the thought police

A naturopath I know recently sent me an article entitled Media Reports on Dangers of Fluoride in Your Water. I’ve had fascinating discussions with this woman in the past, which have included gems such as, “pathology tests are really just scientific experiments”.

Even if I usually expected better of her, a quick glance at the homepage would convince me not to take this article seriously. If you sign up for the site’s newsletter, you also get a “FREE must-read bonus report on “The Dangers of Grains and Sugars!” Funny, but I thought that grains and sugars contained something essential for our survival… oh yeah, energy. Clearly, functionality isn’t homoeopathic.

But back to the fluoride. As a much-needed brain exercise, I decided to go through the article and try and pick out the dubious points… without researching. With the internet, it’s too easy to find information, even reliable information. So, curbing my knee-jerk response to look up every health-related concept on NCBI, I tackled quackery at its best.

* Loaded language: before the end of the introduction, there are three loaded phrases used: “dangers of fluoride”; “terrible effects”; and “harm”.

* “Water fluoridation then spread across the United States despite concerns by respected doctors and scientists that adding it to public water supplies could cause serious health problems that would only become evident years later.” How prophetic of them. I wonder, also, if these doctors have names…

* “According to a 2001 study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it was found that by age 12, kids who live in fluoridated communities averaged only 1.4 fewer cavities that those in non-fluoridated communities.” If this is true, it’s probably because the anti-fluoride lobby has succeeded in getting people to filter their water.

* Under the heading “Dental Fluorosis Running Rampant”, Mesquita makes use of the dodgiest statistics I’ve ever seen: he decides that of the 32% of US children that have some form of fluorosis, all of these must come from cities where the water is artificially fluoridated. He uses this assumption to increase the percentage from 32% to 53%, conveniently forgetting all other factors that could cause fluorosis in other cities (too much toothpaste? Fluoride happy dentists? Naturally occurring fluoride?).

* “A 1991 study by the U.S. Public Health Service found a strong link between fluoride exposure and bone cancer in boys. They found there was a 79 percent increase in osteosarcoma in fluoridated communities and a 4 percent decrease in non-fluoridated communities.” I wonder what made the non-fluoridated communities have a decrease in bone cancer? There must be some other factors here, even if these statistics were true (see below).

* Apparently 50% of ingested fluoride is deposited in your bones. I’d like to know how they determine this kind of thing. I don’t think I’d like to be part of the study… sounds painful. Also, fluoride not only causes bone cells to grow, it also causes them to mutate. Multi-talented little ion really.

* Apparently the FDA requires warning labels on toothpaste stating that if more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, one should seek medical advice. Of course, nowhere in the article do they mention how much fluoride is found in toothpaste and whether this is more or less (I’m suspecting A LOT more) than is found in water.

* At the end of the article there’s an advertisement (well, that’s what it looks like to me) from the owner of the website, for a water testing company — he helped them develop their product. Can anyone spell conflict of interest?

* This article has no references, and even the studies and “facts” referred to within the text would be difficult to find without an extensive search, because no author’s name is given. There’s no accountability, which is obviously the way this kind of writer likes it. You’re not meant to think about it, you’re just meant to be scared and above all, buy their product. So if the facts are faked and the statistics are dubious, hopefully you won’t notice until it’s too late (if at all).

Well, that’s as much as I could think of off the top of my head. Now for some research.

According to Quackwatch, fluoride use was much better investigated and researched than Mesquita would have you believe. It was first studied by comparing the dental hygiene in different cities; eventually naturally occurring fluoride was found to improve dental hygiene (Peterson J. J Hist Dent. 1997 45:57-61). The ideal amount of fluoride in water was found to be one part per million (ppm).

Addition of fluoride to water supplies was tested much more broadly than the Mesquita article mentions; 21 cities in four US states, not just two states, were studied before the concept was rolled out to other states and countries (Dean HT. Nutrition. 1990 6:435-445).

The article claims that in 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that fluoridation of water only marginally decreased the amount of cavities in 12-year-old children; but in the same year the CDC continued to recommend use of fluoride toothpaste and water fluoridation (MMWR Recomm Rep. 2001 50(RR-14):1-42). Mesquitea also claims that fluoridation of water increases fluorosis (MeSH definition); but a 2002 study showed that children in areas where fluoride occurs naturally in water were more likely to suffer fluorosis, due to the higher amounts that can occur in the water (Beltran-Aguilar ED et al. J Am Dent Assoc. 2002 133:157-165). According to Mequita, 84% of the population in places with over 3.7 ppm fluoride have fluorosis; he doesn’t mention that no city would ever add that much, since 1 ppm was found to be optimal; higher amounts are due to naturally occurring fluoride.

I couldn’t find a study from 1991 that showed a link between fluoride and bone cancer; however I found a couple from 1991 that said there was no link (McGuire SM et al. J Am Dent Assoc. 1991 122:38-45; Mahoney MC et al. Am J Public Health. 1991 81:475-479). A more recent review concurred (Cook-Mozaffari P. Community Dent Health. 1996 13 Suppl 2:56-62.)

My conclusions: I’ll keep drinking fluoridated water, and be glad I’ve got it (and a brain to suss out what’s what).