Fifty years after it was
introduced to prevent tooth decay
Is Fluoride in our Water a
by Philip Frazer
White splotches, most noticeable on the front
teeth, the enamel sometimes pitted or striped as if with flat
white paint. Sometimes the discoloration is brown. If you haven't
seen this on people's teeth in your neighborhood, your water is
probably not fluoridated.
It's called dental fluorosis and it's caused by
ingesting too many fluoride compounds (usually called simply
"fluoride") while the teeth develop. Someone with this
mottling of the enamel could also have suffered bone damage or
skeletal fluorosis And a child with these problems will have them
forever because fluorosis is irreversible.
How could it be that after fluoride has been
promoted for 50 years as a benefit to every one of us, it turns
out to be a bad idea? Haven't the people who question
fluoridation been cranks and paranoids?
Today, those lining up against fluoride in tap
water and toothpaste include reputable medical and dental
researchers and doctors, dentists, public health officials and
the governments of most European countries including Sweden, the
Netherlands, France and Germany.
Of the nearly 250 million people worldwide who
drink fluoridated water, about 130 million are Americans. Out of
our 50 largest cities, 41 have fluoridated water.
Does It Work?
Having kids drink fluoridated water was
supposed to cut the incidence of dental cavities.
Most researchers, politicians and dental
professionals say it does just that, but equally qualified people
are questioning that conclusion as well as the data gathered over
the past 50 years (see, for example, the Health Canada Protective
Branch Report, July 2, 1994). While conspiracy theories persist,
most critics are raising serious questions such as, whether
reduced cavities are due to fluoride or other things, like better
education about tooth care.
The establishment and the critics throw
epidemiological studies at each other. Fluoride proponents have
many more studies, going back to the 1940s, but many reputable
scientists have revisited the classic fluoride studies and
concluded that they were fatally flawed.
News on Earth does not pretend to have reviewed
all the studies, but we believe the fast-rising epidemic of
dental fluorosis, coupled with the fact that most countries on
Earth have decided against fluoridation, means it's high time to
reconsider fluoridation. Certainly we shouldn't increase the
percentage of Americans getting compulsory fluoridation via tap
water from 62% now to 75% by 2000, a stated goal of the Clinton
Though the administration parrots the
reassurances of the dental establishment, we found more critical
and independent thought coming from the government of a town just
outside of Boston.
Last year the town of Natick, Mass. put
together a panel of experts with no axes to grind to decide
whether the community should add fluoride to its water. Chairman
Norman Mancuso, Ph.D., has been a chemical engineer, a
postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and
a project scientist at NASA on the Apollo Program. The other four
panelists all had advanced degrees and extensive experience in
chemical risk assessment, in three cases, with the US Army.
Their report concluded "unanimously and
emphatically" that fluoridation was a bad idea, in part
because "there is little or no difference between . . . the
incidence of cavities in children [in] fluoridated and
Worldwide research suggests that tooth decay
rates have gone down just as much where there is no fluoridation.
British Columbia, with 11% of its population
drinking fluoridated water, compared with 40-70% in other
Canadian regions, has the lowest rate of tooth decay in Canada.
Many recent studies published in Caries
Research and the Journal of Dental Research conclude that dental
decay rates in Western Europe, which is 98% unfluoridated, have
declined as much as or more than they have in the US. In 1986-87,
the National Institute of Dental Research conducted the largest
study on fluoridation and tooth decay ever, tracking 39,000 US
schoolchildren between the ages of 5 and 17. A third lived in
fluoridated areas, a third were partially fluoridated, and a
third were unfluoridated. The study, concludes the Natick report,
showed no statistically significant differences in dental decay
between fluoridated and unfluorfidated areas.
Recently, fluoride proponents have revised
their claims: Since 1988, the American Dental Association (ADA)
has asserted that fluoridation can only reduce cavities by
18-25%, which is down from its previous claim of 40-60%.
The Natick report cites new research suggesting
that any cavity-preventive action of fluoride comes from it being
in saliva and not by hardening enamel as was long theorized. That
would mean that it should be applied directly to the mouth, not
pumped into the body via tap water.
Fluorides Are a Major Industrial Waste Product
Fluoride is a toxic pollutant. It's part of the
smokestack emissions from the manufacture of iron, steel,
aluminum, copper, lead, and zinc. It's released in the production
of phosphates (used in all agricultural fertilizers); plastics;
gasoline; brick, cement, glass, ceramics and the many other
products made from clay. It's emitted by coal-burning electrical
power plants and uranium processing facilities. And fluoride is
dumped into waterways by factories producing and processing
glass, pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals and metals.
All these industries would have trouble
disposing of their waste fluoride if they were not able to dump
it or sell it to municipalities for adding to tap water.
The EPA's 1989 estimate was that at least
155,000 tons a year are released into the air by US industrial
plants, and as much as 500,000 tons a year are released into
lakes, rivers and oceans. And because fluoride compounds are not
biodegradable, they gradually accumulate in the environment, in
the food chain and in people's bones and teeth.
Even so, the EPA still says fluoridation is
"an ideal environmental solution to a longstanding
problem." The "problem" is not so much tooth
decay, but the huge amount of fluoride compounds produced as
waste in industry. "By recovering by-product fluosilicic
acid from fertilizer manufacturing, water and air pollution are
minimized and water utilities have a low-cost source of fluoride
available to them," enthuses the EPA.
What damage can fluoride do? In the worst case,
fluoride poisoning can be fatal:
- In May 1992, 260 people were poisoned, and
one man died, in Hooper Bay, Alaska, after drinking water
contaminated with 150 ppm [parts per million] of
fluoride. The accident was attributed to poor equipment
and an unqualified operator at the fluoridation plant.
- In July 1993, three dialysis patients in
Chicago died and five experienced toxic reactions to the
fluoridated water used in the treatment process.
But these accidents are extreme cases. People
at high risk from lower levels of fluoride poisoning include
children, the elderly, people with impaired kidney function
(including many people with AIDS), people with
immunodeficiencies, diabetes and heart ailments, as well as
anyone with calcium, magnesium and vitamin C deficiencies.
In nature, fluoride mostly occurs as calcium
fluoride while what's added to water supplies is mostly sodium
fluoride or sodium silicofluoride (hydrofluorisic acid). Sodium
fluoride is lethal in doses 50 times smaller than
The ADA and the government consider dental
fluorosis only a cosmetic problem. That's no consolation to
people whose teeth are blemished forever. But by designating it
merely "cosmetic," the feds are propping up the
fluoridation enterprise. If fluorosis were redefined as an
"adverse effect," as many dental and medical
professionals urge, the EPA would have to cut in half the
admissible levels and that would radically reduce tap water
Furthermore, the American Journal of Public
Health says that "brittleness of moderately and severely
mottled teeth may be associated with elevated caries [cavities]
levels." in other words, fluoride can cause the exact
problem it's supposed to prevent.
What it does to bones
About half of the fluoride you drink or eat is
absorbed in calcified tissues, like bones and teeth. The National
Academy of Sciences and other authorities agree that a lifetime's
accumulation from large daily doses of fluoride can produce
crippling skeletal fluorosis. This bone damage is widespread
among older people in parts of the world where there are high
concentrations of naturally occurring fluorides in the water, but
few cases of skeletal fluorosis have been reported in the US.
Critics claim we are missing diagnoses of skeletal fluorosis
because most doctors in the US have not studied the disease.
The Natick report, several articles in the
Journal of the American Medical Association, and EPA scientists
all agree that fluoride increases the rate of hip fracture in
people aged 65 or older.
Fluoride makes bones denser, which is why it is
used in the treatment of osteoporosis, but it also makes bones
more brittle (osteosclerosis).
Recent research links fluoridation to a variety
In 1977 Congress instructed the National
Toxicology Program to investigate fluoride's effects on lab
But when its report was released in 1990, Dr.
Robert Carton of the EPA's Toxic Substances Division cried foul:
"Four years ago, NFFE Local 2050, which represents all 1,100
professionals at EPA headquarters [said] that the scientific
support documents for the fluoride in drinking water standard
were fatally flawed.... The fluoride juggernaut proceeded as it
apparently had for the last 40 yearswithout any regard for
the facts or concern for public health.
"[The] EPA raised the allowed level of
fluoride before the results of the rat/mouse study ordered by
Congress in 1977 [were] complete....
"[The] currently existing data . . . show
fluoride causes genetic effects, promotes the growth of cancerous
tissue, and is likely to cause cancer in humans."
The Natick report concluded that most studies
of fluoride and cancer are flawed. . "Given the widespread
deliberate exposure of. humans to water fluoridation and the
suggestive animal data regarding cancer, especially osteosarcoma,
it is incomprehensible why a large case-control epidemiological
study. . . has not been initiated."
Lead and arsenic
Meanwhile, other research has examined fluoride
by-products from aluminum and phosphate (fertilizer) production,
since the fluoride gets contaminated by lead and arsenic.
On top of that, fluorides in the water supply
eat away the protective hydroxide coating in lead pipes in older
homes, and then the pipes can and do leach lead.
Today one in nine children in the US under the
age of 6 has unacceptably high blood lead levels, which some
researchers believe may come from lead contamination in fluoride
added to tap water consumed by pregnant women and passed on to
their developing fetuses.
The EPA concedes that 10-20% of the lead in
children comes from tap water, but that, they say, is too small
to be of regulatory concern. Critics again point to its
concentration over time in body tissue and the fact that we
consume additional fluoride from products processed with
Enzymes, brains and Alzheimer's
The Natick report found that fluoride can
"seriously disturb the balance of enzymatically activated
biochemical reactions," for example, "the metabolism of
a number of common oral bacteria (e.g., Streptococcus
mutans)...." The Natick panelists saw this as an area
needing new study.
Another such area is damage to the brain or the
central nervous system. In a recent article in the peer-reviewed
journal Brain Research on the effects of aluminum on brain
tissue, researchers reported that it was not aluminum but low
levels of fluoride that caused damage to the tissue of the brain
similar to the damage found in humans with Alzheimer's and other
forms of dementia.
An earlier study by Mullenix et al., reported
in Nevrotoxicology and Teratology, in 1995,
found that animals exposed to fluoride at various stages of
gestation suffered either permanent hyperactivity if exposed
prenatally, or became "the rat version of couch potato"
if exposed after birth, though there was no elaboration of
exactly what that is.
The Natick folks say "there is good
evidence that fluoride . . . affects the IQ and behavioral
patterns of the developing fetus at doses that are not toxic to
The International Society for Fluoride Research
has also reported studies implicating fluoride in the rising
rates of Down's syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome and sleep
How much are YOU Consuming
Even though no "optimal" fluoride
intake has ever been established, the EPA set a maximum
contaminant level (MCL) for fluoride in 1986, at 4 mg per liter
of tap water. The recommended doses for kids were revised in
1995, downward to 2 mg., and less for infants, to prevent
fluorosis. It's estimated that the average person consumes
between 5 and 7 mg. per day in "optimally fluoridated"
areas, from drinking water, dental products, and food and
beverages made with fluoridated water. But a heavy coffee and tap
water drinker, drinking 4 liters a day, is at risk for crippling
bone fluorosis after 10 years, according to National Academy of
Science figures, or 20 years, says the US Public Health Service.
Children can consume enough to develop
fluorosis if their tap water is fluoridated and they drink
reconstituted juices. Grape juice, for example, has been tested
at almost 6.8 mg. of fluoride per liter..
The Natick report concluded that, if their town
water was fluoridated, children under 3 would be likely to ingest
"between 2 and 3.5 times as much fluoride as recommended by
the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dental Association
and the American Academy of Family Physicians."
Cooking with tap water can greatly increase a
food's fluoride content, and Teflon- and Tefal- coated items
(such as frying pans) transmit very small amounts of fluoride
Today, fluoride levels in toothpaste have risen
to 4,000 ppm, and the warnings on the tubes are back, much to the
annoyance of the ADA.
Children and adults commonly ingest up to 0.5
mg. of fluoride a day from toothpaste. Small children are now
told to use no more than a pea-size amount, but young kids have
less control over swallowing, and how many are sticking to the
pea rule is impossible to say, especially when they're enticed by
Fluoride treatments commonly administered in
the dentist's chair contain between 10,000 to 20,000 ppm and
there is no regulated dose requirement. In recent years, several
deaths have been attributed to dental office treatments.
Why the juggernaut?
The scientific establishment in the US is
largely united in support of fluoridation, but this show of
unanimity may come in part from reluctance to admit to a gigantic
mistake (the "whoops factor"), and it sometimes comes
at a cost to scientific accuracy.
Dr. William Marcus, the dissenting senior
science advisor in the EPA's Office of Drinking Water, says that
when the rat studies were released, "every one of the
cancers reported by the contractor (Botel Northwest) had been
downgraded by the National Toxicology Program." A
congressional investigation found that NTP scientists were
coerced by their superiors to change their findings.
Anti-fluoride crusader John Yiamouyiannis
believes that government policy is designed, above all, to
protect industry, and that the motivating force behind fluoride
use is the need of certain businesses to dump their toxic waste
products somewhere. "As is normal, the solution to pollution
is dilution. You poison everyone a little bit rather than poison
a few people a lot. This way, people don't know what's going
on," he said in the journal Fluoride.
It would cost companies such as Exxon, US Steel
and Alcoa many millions, perhaps billions, of dollars to handle
fluoride properly. Marcus says that "it would require a
class-one landfill [which] would cost .... about $7,000-plus per
5,000- to 6,000-gallon truckload to dispose of it. It's highly
As Ralph Nader once said, if they admit they're
wrong on fluoridation, people would ask, and legitimately so,
"What else have they not told us right?"
How to avoid it, how to get it
out of your system
Public pressure has got fluoride out of the
water throughout Europe, as well as in Los Angeles, Newark,
Jersey City, and Bedford, Mass.
You can get some of the fluoride out of your
tap with either reverse osmosis filters or water ionizers. Check
toothpaste labels for fluoride. Dabur, Natures Gate, Weleda and
Higher Ideals make fluoride-free toothpaste.
Mottled teeth cannot be repaired except by
cosmetic dentistry, but fluoride damage to the soft tissues, such
as liver, kidneys and reproductive organs, is reversible with
vitamins. When lab mice who had reproductive-organ damage induced
by fluoride were given vitamin C and calcium (and no more
fluoride), they recovered significantly. In another experiment
with mice, vitamins E and D repaired the damage that fluoride did
to liver and kidneys.
To see the full Natick
Report, go to
person account of one person's experience with fluoride. Health
authorities dismiss such accounts as "incidental," but they often hold
more truth than officially sanctioned "studies."