If fluoride is toxic, why is the Australian government adding it to our water supply? IA resident critical thinker John Turnbull takes a look at the science and history of water fluoridation.
FLUORIDE WAS first introduced into the Australian water supply in 1953, a couple of years after it was introduced in the U.S. The stated aim of introducing fluoride to the water was to improve the dental health of the population and reduce medical costs associated with dental caries (otherwise known as cavities).
The World Health Organization states;
‘Fluoridation of water supplies, where possible, is the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay…. The prevalence of dental caries is inversely related to the concentration of fluoride in drinking water.’
What are the dangers of fluoride?
At very high levels of consumption, calcium fluoride can cause severe dental fluorosis, (a condition that affects children under 8 years old and results in a mottling of the teeth), skeletal fluorosis and weakened bones.
Most scientists agree that the primary danger of excess consumption of fluoride is fluorosis, which at worst is mildly disfiguring rather than a life threatening condition. While some fringe critics claim that it also leads to lowered IQ and paralysis, there is no credible evidence to suggest that this is true.
Countries that currently add fluoride to their water supplies include Australia, the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Malaysia and Singapore.
So why is fluoride banned in Japan and Europe?
It isn’t banned, it just isn’t added to the water supply. There is a significant difference.
Fluoride was added to the water supply across much of Europe from the 1950s (France, Greece and Austria never bothered), however, in 1971, Germany and Sweden stopped the practice, followed by the Netherlands in 1976. It seems that this decision was primarily based on cost and a lack of evidence for the benefits of fluoridation.
With the exception of some U.S.-led fluoridation experiments during the fifties and sixties, Japan has never had a widespread water fluoridation program.
One of the main arguments against fluoridation in Europe and Japan is the high use of topical fluoride, generally in the form of toothpaste. In fact, to make up for the lack of fluoridation in the water, the Japanese government has instituted a school-based fluoride mouth-rinsing program with a target of 2 million students participating in 2020.
What does the science say?
Over the years there have been many claims that fluoride is bad for your health, and a number of high profile lobby groups have petitioned governments around the world for further research. As a result, significant research has been conducted into the harmful effects of fluoride by a number of credible independent researchers.
A systematic review of fluoridation research conducted by the British Medical Journal in 2000 concluded:
‘Water fluoridation was associated with an increased proportion of children without caries and a reduction in the number of teeth affected by caries... A dose-dependent increase in dental fluorosis was found. At a fluoride level of 1 ppm an estimated 12.5% (95% confidence interval 7.0% to 21.5%) of exposed people would have fluorosis that they would find aesthetically concerning.’ (BMJ 2000:321:855)
It is worth pointing out that ingestion of dangerous levels of fluoride is hazardous to your health. The key is in the descriptor: “dangerous levels”. It is also hazardous to consume dangerous levels of water, which can result in hyponatremia and can be fatal.
While governments around the world differ slightly on the ideal level of fluoride in the water supply, the World Health Organization recommends a fluoride level of 0.5 to 1.5 milligrams per litre.
As is the case for the vast majority of substances, fluoride toxicity is in the dosage.
But the EWG said that there were “unacceptable health risks”!
Despite their rather grandiose name, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a lobby group with significant financial ties to the organic food lobby. In the past, they have run scare campaigns about sunscreen and mobile phone radiation, but tend to focus on that great boogeyman of modern age: toxins. Major contributors listed on their website include Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farms, Earthbound Farms, Applegate and Klean Kanteen.
You don’t need to look very far online to find anti-fluoride advocates, including Australian Fluoride Action (telling you the capitalized TRUTH) and Fluoride Alert, who list fifty reasons to oppose fluoridation (most based on bad or outdated science, but anyway). Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true.
The government is violating my right to choose
Yeah, maybe it is. For better or worse, that is what governments do.
The balance of evidence suggests that while fluoridation of water may not be hugely beneficial for adults, the advantages for children in the prevention of dental problems are clear. While the risk of fluorosis in cases of fluoride over-consumption is legitimate, the downside of having slightly mottled teeth does not outweigh the societal benefit. In my opinion.
Think for yourself.
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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