A closer look at the link between fluoride in the water & health issues
Walk down the self-care aisle of any grocery store and you will find an array of toothpaste and mouthwash that promise to do everything except make you taller. Use this one to get whiter teeth and another one to help sensitive teeth. What do most of these products have in common? They contain fluoride.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring chemical substance found in minor quantities throughout the air, in water, soil, plants, animals, in toothpaste, many city water supplies, soft drinks, and at the dentist. The effort to ramp up fluoride in the United States began as early as the 1930s in an attempt to prevent dental caries through the addition of fluoride to the public water supply. By 1951, water fluoridation was the official policy of the U.S. Public Health Service with fluoridated water reaching 50 million people in the United States by 1961.
However, findings from research are prompting local policy makers to rethink their public health policy on supporting fluoridation of the water supply since the “safe rate” for fluoride has been lowered in 2015 due to an array of serious health issues that have surfaced in connection with new fluoride facts. The discussion on lowering the fluoride levels in water has long been a topic of contentious research. Even as early as 1992, Burt argued in “The Changing Patterns of Systemic Fluoride Intake” that the United states needed “a downward revision in the schedule for fluoride supplementation” as well as education on the potential for the damaging health effects brought on by too much fluoride (p 1).
In 1961, investigations into the safety of fluoride in the United States found “no clinically significant, adverse, physiological, or functional effects, with the exception of dental fluorosis, are to be anticipated in persons whose water supply contains fluoride in the concentration of 8 ppm ” (Azar, et al, 1961). In other words, the United States’ early findings supported nearly double the safe amount of 4 ppm now recorded by professionals in other global communities as the ceiling for safe water fluoridation levels. This would be fine if the adverse effects of over-fluoridation were benign. However, that’s not the case.
Chronic fluoride intoxication, known as fluoride toxicity, begins with a mottling of tooth enamel and an elevation of bone density, called osteosclerosis. This effect has been seen throughout communities where the domestic water supply was composed of fluoride in concentrations of over four parts per million (1-5). Moreover, fluoride is a recognized developmental neurotoxin, and not an essential trace element required for the development of healthy teeth and bones (Karimzade, Aghaei & Mahvi, 2014). Additional and very recent studies have linked exposure to fluoridated water during childhood “with impaired attention and cognitive and intellectual functioning” that manifests in children and adults as ADD/ADHD (Karimzade, Aghaei & Mahvi, 2014; Malin & Till, 2015). Both prenatal and postnatal exposure to fluoride have been linked to adverse effects of neurodevelopment (Malin & Till, 2015). Knowing this, you might begin to wonder why it’s being touted as so necessary to the public health and ask yourself, “Is fluoride safe?” This is a legitimate concern, and one whose full merits have yet to be addressed. Seen as a “fringe issue,” the concerns about fluoride are gaining momentum as the link to hypothyroid, the condition of underactive thyroid, begin to surface in connection to fluoride in our water sources.
A 2012 Water District 17 meeting in Austin illustrated one of the most alarming aspects of such discussions regarding fluoride. Texas dentist Mark Peppard, designating himself as a “referral base for M. D. Anderson,” recounted that he receives patients suffering from oral, head, and neck cancers and the primary intervention he offers is to put them in bed “every single night” with a fluoride tray containing “at least 5,000 ppm of topical application.” Relying on the most convenient fallback of professionals, defaulting to the literature supported by their local association without regards to blatant errors in past judgment regarding the safety of fluoride, dentists like Dr. Peppard often disregard the consequences of such treatments that extend beyond the teeth and adversely affect entire system. Without the input of such lofty professional opinions the damaging effect of fluoride may have been removed from Austin’s water supply. However, the input of one local dentist, spouting statistics offered as well by the ADA that often are proven incorrect in a few year’s time, was enough to keep fluoride in Austin’s water supply.
On a more troubling note, the clear data from a plethora of global research becomes a little fuzzier when filtered through the lens of the United States, the local governments, The American Dental Association, and your friendly local dentist advocating childhood fluoride treatments at every teeth cleaning. The ADA asserts that “community water fluoridation is the adjustment of the natural fluoride concentration in water up to the level recommended for optimal dental health” in a range of 0.7 to 1.2 ppm, ranking well above levels at which thyroid function is found to deteriorate (2005). In research citing over 128 “reliable sources,” the ADA’s definitively titled “Fluoride Facts” pamphlet confirmed in 2005 that up to 1.22 ppm was a completely safe concentration of fluoride in the water (2005). This information has been found to be not only incorrect based on recent studies, but also advocating what are now regarded as dangerously high levels of fluoride.
More recent research from the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health asserts that water fluoridation above 4 ppm is linked to “30 per cent higher than expected rates of underactive thyroid” (Peckham, Lowrey & Spencer, 2015). Looking at the prevalence of underactive thyroid diagnoses for 2012-2013, data from over 7935 general practices was compiled to measure the risk. In England currently, roughly 6 million people live in communities that have added fluoridation in their water supply of up to 1 mg fluoride.
The researchers added the additional data comprised of a secondary analysis that compared the areas of the West Midlands, which has fluoridated drinking water, and Greater Manchester, which does not. A clear association between rates of underactive thyroid and levels of fluoride in the drinking water was discovered.
While these are purely observations, they did not cover accounting for other sources of fluoride, such as those found in dental products, in our food, and in drinks. These products are part of the systemic changes that Burt’s findings cite. The research from the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health concluded that “consideration needs to be given to reducing fluoride exposure, and public dental health interventions should stop [those] reliant on ingested fluoride and switch to topical fluoride-based and non-fluoride-based interventions” (Peckham, Lowrey & Spencer, 2015, p 5).
What do all the numbers and the research show? The takeaway from the fluoride debate is that the “powers that be,” acting as governmental parenting and healthcare advocates for an uninformed population seem very comfortable using the police powers of the states to overmedicate their populations, creating grievous health concerns for many that will never be answered for or alleviated. Using the executive actions of government bodies, unilateral decisions to add fluoride to the drinking water is deemed in the best interest of their populations. When their error came to light through additional new research regarding the safety and efficacy of the fluoride levels, the levels were downgraded. A small parcel of states still hold out against the addition of fluoride into their drinking water (see below the communities that have rejected fluoride). With more than just the teeth at risk, it seems prudent to treat just the individuals who might need additional fluoride rather than potentially poisoning a large segment of the population.
COMMUNITIES THAT HAVE REJECTED FLUORIDATION SINCE 1990
Compiled by Fluoride Action Network
Azar Ha, Nucho Ck, Bayyuk Si, Bayyuk Wb. “Skeletal Sclerosis Due to Chronic Fluoride Intoxication: Cases from an Endemic Area of Fluorosis in the Region of the Persian Gulf.” Ann Intern Med. 1961;55:193-200. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-55-2-193
BMJ. “Water fluoridation in England linked to higher rates of underactive thyroid.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 February 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150224083811.htm>.
Burt, B. A. (1992). “The changing patterns of systemic fluoride intake.” Journal of Dental Research, 71(5), 1228-1237.
Hanes, M., & Jones, M. (n.d.). Fluoride Action Network. Retrieved June 20, 2015, from http://fluoridealert.org/content/communities/
Isah, H. A., Mohammed, U. A., & Mohammed, A. A. (2014). Environmental distribution of fluoride in drinking waters of Kaltungo area, North-Eastern Nigeria. American Journal of Environmental Protection, 3(6-2), 19-24.
Karimzade, S., Aghaei, M., & Mahvi, A. H. (2014). Investigation of intelligence quotient in 9–12-year-old children exposed to high-and low-drinking water fluoride in west Azerbaijan province, Iran. Fluoride, 47(1), 9-14.
Malin, A. J., & Till, C. (2015). Exposure to fluoridated water and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder prevalence among children and adolescents in the United States: an ecological association. Environmental Health, 14(1), 17.
McGinley, J., & Stoufflet, N. (2005). Fluoridation Facts. Retrieved June 20, 2015, from http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Member Center/FIles/fluoridation_facts.ashx
Peckham, Lowery & Spencer. “Are fluoride levels in drinking water associated with hypothyroidism prevalence in England? A large observational study of GP practice data and fluoride levels in drinking water.” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, February 2015 DOI: 10.1136/jech-2014-204971