The Wall Street Journal carried an article today in its Health Journal by Melinda Beck, “And You Thought the Debate Over Fluoridation Was Settled”. Having just finished a blog on fluoride and related background reading, the article caught my eye, then quickly turned my stomach. I will break down her article in a minute, but I have to point out that the Wall Street Journal is owned by the 109th richest person in the world, Rupert Murdoch, who also owns one of the largest media conglomerates in the world, reaching hundreds of millions of people each and every day. For the Wall Street Journal to carry an article like this shows me that people are starting to wake up to the dangers associated with not only water fluoridation, but the use of fluoride in general. In my opinion, this is a typical “hit piece” designed to re-convince those that are on the fence or beginning to wonder about the effectiveness of fluoridation that those who question this practice are a dying – and/or irrational – breed. Ms. Beck makes several logical and factual errors in writing her article. In fact, I found myself scratching my head and wondering if she is really this poorly researched, or if she is being paid off by chemical companies to reassert the need and safety of water fluoridation.
I will work through this short article line by line. For more ease of reading, I have typed my comments in brackets and with dark blue font.
By Melinda Beck
HEALTH JOURNAL – NOVEMBER 4, 2008
[First of all, the debate over fluoridation is far from settled, and this title is very misleading. In fact, the debate over water fluoridation has been heating up over the past thirty years, especially in the last decade when more international studies have been performed regarding its safety and positive and negative health effects.]
As a baby boomer growing up without fluoridation, I had 14 cavities before my 18th birthday, including seven at one particularly mortifying dental visit.
A generation later, my teenage daughters, who’ve grown up in a fluoridated city, have a combined total of none.
[These two statements taken by themselves reveal what this author wants her reader to believe: that fluoridating water resulted in her kids having no cavities, while she suffered from fourteen because her water was not fluoridated. In the 1940’s when water fluoridating began, dentists most assuredly believed that the ingestion of fluoride had preventative effects on tooth caries. While this was a dominant belief for a few decades, that belief has been greatly challenged over the past thirty years. Many recent studies have now shown that the effectiveness of fluoride for cavity prevention does not come from the systemic application of fluoride, as in water fluoridation where the fluoride travels through the entire system, but from the topical application of fluoride on the teeth itself.]
I assumed that the debate over fluoridation was long settled — after all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls adding minute quantities of fluoride to municipal water supplies one of the 10 most significant public-health advances of the 20th century. But opposition remains fervent in some communities. More than 180 million Americans have access to fluoridated water, which leaves over 100 million who do not.
[The CDC does indeed call adding water fluoridation one of the most significant health advances in the 20th century, but that is a contention that many dentists, pharmacologists and researchers are questioning, backed up by international studies and research. I would argue that overall better oral hygiene, including topically applied fluoride toothpastes, regular checkups, better toothbrush designs, antiseptic mouthwashes and dental floss are the contributing factors to better oral health, not water fluoridation.]
Fluoridation is on the ballot today in 41 such communities in Nebraska, as well as one in New York state, one in Maine and two in Wisconsin — and the battles echo 60 years of controversy.
“Fluoride is a poison. You can’t dump it in the ocean or a landfill, and they want to put it in our water. It’s insane,” says Marvin “Butch” Hughes of Hastings, Neb. (population 25,000), who heads the local chapter of Nebraskans for Safe Water.
[These statements are factual. Sodium fluoride is a poison. It is widely used in pesticides. It cannot be dumped into an ocean or landfill and requires personal protective equipment to handle it. See the MSDS (material safety data sheets) report here. In addition to this statement, the author failed to mention that only a couple handfuls of countries worldwide practice water fluoridation. Most of western Europe has banned water fluoridation. Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, the Soviet Union, Finland and Japan all once practiced water fluoridation but have ceased. Because fluoridating water is seen as “compulsory mass-medication” many argue that it violates the Nuremburg code. (source)]
“I’ve had reporters ask me if fluoride can be used to make weapons of mass destruction,” sighs Jessica Meeske, a pediatric dentist in Hastings and board member of the Nebraska Dental Association, which supports fluoridation. She treats patients from communities that have fluoride and those that don’t: “The kids who don’t have more cavities, and the cavities are much deeper. They’re in a lot of pain. They aren’t able to eat. They don’t do well in school. And the decay just escalates. It spreads from tooth to tooth.”
[While Ms. Meeske’s first statement above appears ridiculous, as I am sure it was intended to reduce the argument to absurdity, it is not as ridiculous as it sounds. A form of fluoride, methylphosphonyl difluoride, is indeed used in sarin gas, which has been classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction. I wonder if this dentist above is considering other factors such as diet and overall oral hygiene and the correlation with better dental health. The above quote makes it seem like cavities are an epidemic that must be treated with water fluoridation. There are better ways. ]
Controversy has dogged fluoridation ever since scientists determined in the 1930s that tiny amounts of the naturally occurring mineral added to water can guard against tooth decay. Opponents dubbed it a Communist plot and have claimed over the years that it raises the risk for cancer, Down’s syndrome, heart disease, osteoporosis, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, lower IQ, thyroid problems and other diseases.
[There is some substantiation for some of these claims, but it is deceptive to list some suspected health conditions after such claims that fluoridation was a “communist plot”. In my previous post on fluoride, I included a quote from a man who said that the Nazis and communists talked about a plan of using fluoride in the gulags and concentration camps to make the prisoners more docile and complacent. There is little more I can find on this, and no doubt has fueled a lot of the “communist plot” speculations. At the same time, the health effects are not matters of mere speculation. For more on health effects, click here. A recent study performed by Harvard found that children are more likely to develop bone cancer at a young age when exposed to a moderate amount of fluoridated water. I found it particularly interesting that the article on this Harvard study stated that fluoride accumulates in the bones, which gives weight to the argument that fluoride is a bioaccumulative toxin.]
In 2006, the National Research Council warned that high levels of fluoride — roughly four times the amount typically used in water systems — are associated with severe dental fluorosis, in which teeth become mottled and pitted, and could cause bone fractures. A separate study linked fluoride with a very rare bone cancer in boys.
[The author also fails to mention that dental fluorosis has increased by 9% over the last twenty years and the cause (not a mere association with, as the article suggests) is fluoride overdose, either by environmental exposure or water fluoridation.]
Bill Bailey, a dental health officer at the CDC, says while a few isolated studies have raised such questions, “there’s never been any compelling evidence that fluoridation has any harmful health effects” in over 60 years of research. A long list of medical associations have also endorsed fluoridation, including the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization and the past five surgeons general.
[Let it be known that the ADA, AMA and WHO also supported the use of mercury-fillings, which have been shown to be toxic to the body. In recent years, the use of mercury-fillings has ceased. These three organizations also tout vaccinations as another great medical advancement of the 20th century and there are many serious health risks regarding this practice as well. An appeal to authority here does not make the author’s case. This reminds me of the classic mother question, “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?”]
Overall, drinking fluoridated water cuts the rate of tooth decay 18% to 40%, according to the CDC. Studies have shown that it can help “remineralize” weakened areas in children’s and adults’ teeth, allowing many more elderly Americans to keep their teeth all their lives. The ADA estimates that every $1 spent on community fluoridation saves $38 in dental bills.
[I could not locate the studies or even excerpts of the studies on the CDC’s website, but I did find the source of the above information in a release from the Office of the Surgeon General in May of 2000 regarding the benefits of fluoride: “Communities with fluoridated drinking water in the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand show striking reductions in tooth decay—those with fluoridated drinking systems have 15–40 percent less tooth decay.” There are no references, footnotes or endnotes directing anyone to any studies. Again, there is no clarification as to the assessed overall oral health of those in fluoridated communities and those in non-fluoridated communities. Furthermore, It is a moot point to say that $1 spent on water fluoridation saves $38 in dental bills, especially when studies suggest many negative health implications arising from fluoridation. If one saves $38 on dental bills and spends $50 on other health problems related to fluoride toxicity, is it really a savings?]
Fluoride is now widely added to toothpaste and mouthwash — even many varieties of bottled water — and dentists in unfluoridated areas often urge patients to use supplements. So some critics wonder whether adding it the water supply is necessary. Dr. Meeske says many poor families that she treats can’t afford the supplements, and that fluoride is more effective at protecting teeth when it’s ingested, so that teeth are continually bathed with a low dose. “It’s much cheaper and simpler to prevent decay through water fluoridation than to drill it and fill it out of teeth,” she says.
If you’re concerned or just curious about the level of fluoride in your water, ask your local water utility. Home water filters that use reverse-osmosis (not the activated carbon filters that sit on a tap) can reduce fluoride as much as 99%. But think really hard before you do that: Take it from me, it’s no fun getting your teeth filled.
[This is an appeal to pity, a logical fallacy that does not present any factual information, but tries to sway the reader’s opinion based upon feeling. “YOU wouldn’t want to suffer, too, would you? I didn’t think so. Therefore, you shouldn’t stop water fluoridation.” This is just plain nonsense. It is true that reverse-osmosis and even some gravity filters can remove most fluoride from the water. The position of those calling for an end to water fluoridation is simply this: there are a lot of questions and studies suggesting that fluoride is harmful when ingested and it is prudent of citizens to call for a moratorium on the practice of water fluoridation until more conclusive studies can demonstrate its safety. I mean, what happened for thousands of years when people were not consuming fluoride and brushing their teeth with it? Were all of our ancestors toothless?]
Which state has the highest rate of fluoridation? Kentucky, where 99.8% of residents received fluoridated water, as of 2006. Hawaii had the lowest percentage, at just 8.4%. Next lowest was New Jersey, with only 22.4% of residents receiving fluoridated supplies. To see where your state ranks, see this CDC link: http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/statistics/2006stats.htm