Stephen F. Sherrill
It was 55 years ago in Grand Rapids Michigan that the first large scale experiment with water fluoridation began. Today, approximately 60 percent of our nations water supplies are artificially fluoridated. The idea, then as now, was that tiny amounts of fluoride taken into the body on a daily basis would help prevent tooth decay in children with developing teeth. Since its inception, the practice has had enthusiastic supports and equally vigorous opponents. A half century later the often-bitter debate continues between mainstream medical/dental associations who routinely endorse water fluoridation and scientists, researchers and health-conscious citizens who are concerned about the growing body of scientific evidence linking ingested fluoride to a variety of adverse health consequences. Proponents maintain that ingested fluoride strengthens newly forming tooth enamel making teeth more impervious to decay. They insist that in small dosages, the additive is perfectly safe and that thousands of studies prove its safety and effectiveness. Not so, say opponents and the weight of new scientific evidence appears to be tipping the scales in their favor.
Faced with new toxicological evidence, some high-profile fluoridation advocates are jumping ship. Dr. Hardy Limeback, B.Sc., Ph.D. in Biochemistry, D.D.S., head of the Department of Preventive Dentistry for the University of Toronto, president of the Canadian Association of Dental Research and until recently one of Canada’s most outspoken champions of water fluoridation now warns, “Children under three should never use fluoridated toothpaste, or drink fluoridated water. And baby formula must never be made with [fluoridated] Toronto tape water. Never.” He continues, “In fluoridated areas, people should never use fluoride supplements.” In recent interview, columnist Barry Forbes asked Dr. Limeback, “Why the paradigm shift?” “It’s been building up for a couple of years”, said Limeback. “But the crowning blow was the realization that we have been dumping contaminated fluoride into water reservoirs for half a century. The vast majority of all fluoride additives come from Tampa Bay, Florida smokestack scrubbers. The additives are a toxic byproduct of the super-phosphate fertilizer industry. Tragically,” says Limeback, “that means we’re not just dumping toxic fluoride into our drinking water. We’re also exposing innocent unsuspecting people to deadly elements of lead, arsenic and radium, all of them carcinogenic. Because of the cumulative properties of toxins, the detrimental effects on human health are catastrophic.”
But does ingested fluoride actually fight tooth decay? Supporters credit fluoridated drinking water for a nationwide decline in tooth decay but opponents contend that the decline is more likely due to improvements in lifestyle, nutrition and oral hygiene. They point to an equivalent decline in tooth decay in Europe which is 98 percent fluoridation free and Japan where there is no water fluoridation at all. In 1986-97 the National Institute of Dental Research conducted the largest ever study in the U.S. to determine the dental health of our nation’s children. The study found no identifiable correlation between tooth decay rates in children and the consumption of fluoridated water. Likewise, the fifty-year fluoridation experiment in two New York cities, Newburgh and Kingston, shows no significant difference in tooth decay. The only distinguishable difference in dental health between these two communities is that fluoridated Newburgh shows nearly twice the incidence of dental fluorosis – the first, visible sign of chronic fluoride toxicity – as in non-fluoridated Kingston. “There is no point in swallowing fluoridated water”, says Canada’s Dr. Limeback. “The only benefit comes with direct contact with the teeth. Here in Toronto, we’ve been fluoridating for 36 years. Yet Vancouver – which has never fluoridated – has a cavity rate lower than Toronto’s.”
What sort of health hazards are we talking about? The pro-fluoridationists contend that there is no proof positive of any of the adverse health effects claimed by opponents, which range from cancer and neurological impairment to damaged tooth enamel and brittle bones. Opponents are troubled by reports that accumulated fluoride fuses with bones and teeth making them more brittle and fracture prone. Four articles published in the Journal of the American Medical Association since 1990 linking fluoridated drinking water to an increased rate of hip fracture gives strong credibility to these concerns. In the words of Charles Gordon Heyd, past president of the American Medical Association, “Fluoride is a corrosive poison that will produce serious effects on a long-range basis” Dr. Limeback emphasizes, “We absolutely know about the tragic consequences of higher levels of fluoride, and we know it builds up over time. These people haven’t done any studies to find out what effect fluoride accumulation will have at current levels. How can they say it’s safe when the studies haven’t been done? Right now, we [in Toronto] have been ingesting fluoride for 35 years. What happens in another 50 years, when these people have been adding this poison to their bones for 85 years? What we’re finding indicates a trend”, says Limeback. “Torontonians have double the fluoride levels in their hip bones compared to Montreal, where water is not fluoridated.”
How toxic is fluoride? A brief look into any toxicology textbook will quickly reveal what most Americans would be alarmed to discover. Fluoride is more toxic than lead and only slightly less toxic than arsenic. Lead has been removed from most commercial products including paint and gasoline because of its toxic effects on the brain and central nervous system. It’s curious that fluoride, which is more toxic, remains so prevalent in our society and is even promoted by well-meaning health professionals and public health officials as a safe and effective tooth decay preventative. The established “optimal” amount of fluoride in drinking water (one milligram per liter) is 266 times higher than the maximum contaminant level for lead established by the Environmental Protection Agency. A pea-sized portion of fluoride toothpaste contains approximately one milligram of fluoride. The FDA now requires that toothpaste manufacturers include a poison warning on the back of all products containing fluoride.
On July 2, 1997, National Federation of Federal Employees, Local 250, the union that represents the toxicologists, biologists, chemists, engineers, attorneys and other professional employees at Environmental Protection Agency Headquarters in Washington, D.C., stated, “Our members’ review of the body of evidence over the last eleven years, indicates a causal link between fluoride/fluoridation and cancer, genetic damage, neurological impairment and bone pathology. Of particular concern are recent epidemiology studies linking fluoride exposure to lower I.Q. in children.
What about fluoride’s neurological effects? According to The Lancct, England’s premier medical journal, fluoride inhibits or destroys the crucial neurotransmitter Acetylcholine sterase, which is imperative for the process of learning and memory. In the United States, scientist Phyllis Mullenix, while doing research for the Forsyth Dental Center in Boston, found similar evidence of neurological impairment. She proved that low doses of fluoride accumulate in the brain tissue of laboratory animals, and that the severity of the effects depends on the age of those exposed. The younger were more vulnerable and could even be affected while still in the womb. What’s worse, the effects were permanent. “We demonstrated that fluoride does accumulate in the brain, and it was previously thought or reported that fluoride does not cross the blood-brain barrier, but this is definitely not true” proclaims Dr Mullenix. “There is a distinct possibility that fluoride may be decreasing the neurological capacity of the children, and for that matter, even of the adults and into the aged population. New epidemiological evidence from China confirms a correlation between low-dose fluoride exposure and diminished I.Q. in children.”
In 1999, Dartmouth College researchers Roger D. Masters and Myron J. Coplan completed a study, which sampled 280,000 children in Massachusetts and reported a doubling of the risk of lead levels in children’s blood rising above the danger level of 10 micrograms per deciliter when the waste silicofluorides from the phosphate fertilizer industry are used for water fluoridation. In a plenary address, Masters states that heavy metals compromise normal brain development and neurotransmitter function, leading to long-term deficits in learning and social behavior. Earlier studies revealed that hyperactive children and criminal offenders have significantly elevated levels of lead, manganese, or cadmium compared to controls. High blood lead at age seven predicts juvenile delinquency and adult crime. Communitics using silicofluorides also report higher rates of learning disabilities, ADHD and violent crime.
How are we exposed to fluoride? Fluoride exposure has increased since water fluoridation’s inception in 1945 and, in addition to fluoridated water, popular dental products, prescribed fluoride drops and tablets and professional dental treatments, fluoride has found its way into many common food items such as soft drinks, cereals, milk, concentrated soups and juices, meats, teas, white grape juice, lettuce, tomatoes, raisins, and other produce because of fluoride-based pesticide residues and food processed with fluoridated water. The quandary facing health-conscious Americans wishing to avoid excess exposure is that there are no labeling requirements for fluoride contents in food. Dr. Mullenix warns, “It’s totally illogical to be putting fluoride into our drinking water. We should be working on ways to control our exposures, reducing it from our drinking water, reducing it from our food intake and/or by inhalation in various occupational situations. We shouldn’t be working to introduce more fluoride into our diet with this type of risk looming over our head.”
How can we tell if our children are being overexposed? The first sign … “Mottled and brittle teeth”, says Dr. Limeback. “In Canada we are now spending more money treating dental fluorosis than we do treating cavities.” The characteristics of dental fluorosis are mottled, discolored, porous and fracture-prone teeth caused by fluoride over exposure between birth and approximately 8 years of age. In 1995, while segments of these same trade associations simultaneously continued to lobby for water fluoridation, both the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, concerned over the increased incidence of dental fluorosis, created new policy recommendations for fluoride drops and tablets. These supplements are intended to be a substitute in communities where the water is not fluoridated. The new schedules indicate that the accepted “optimal” daily dose from fluoridated water (one milligram per day) exceeds the dosage that any qualified medical professional could ethically prescribe to a child under 6 years of age and an infant under 6 months of age should receive no fluoride. According to the new recommendations, a child under the age of 6 would be overdosed every day by the amount of fluoride found in one liter of “optimally” fluoridated tap water and a child between the ages of 6 months and 3 years would be limited to the amount of fluoride found in just one cup of fluoridated tap water. U.S. Public Health Service documents show that even in 1991, when considering exposure from all sources, non-fluoridated communities were already receiving amounts equal to and above the targeted daily fluoride dosage. Fluoridated communities were receiving an estimated 3 to 7 times the “optimal” amount. The largest dental study in the United States revealed that 66 percent of children in fluoridated areas now display the visible signs of dental fluorosis. Dr. John Colquhoun, Auckland, New Zealand’s former Principal Dental Officer and high-profile fluoridation advocate wrote, “Common sense should tell us that if a poison circulating in a child’s body can damage tooth-forming cells, then other harm is also likely.”
Recently members of Congress have also been getting into the act. In light of the fact that fluoride is well recognized as a general enzyme poison, legislators such as a Ken Calvert, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, have been demanding answers to some tough questions from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), National Academy of Science (NAS) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the subcommittee’s investigation of these agencies’ actions surrounding the fluoridation issue. Calvert is calling for answers to questions regarding conflict of interest among those responsible for setting foundation standards, unproven claims of fluoride’s benefits, the increase of dental fluorosis nationwide and the cost of repairing damaged teeth, the margin of safety for unusually susceptible individuals, known contaminants in fluoridation additives and compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996.
In light of all the new data why do associations like the ADA and agencies like the CDC continue to endorse water fluoridation? “Unfortunately,” says Dr. Limeback, “the CDC is basing its position on data that is 50 years old and questionable at best. Absolutely no one has done research on fluorosilicates, which is the junk they’re dumping into the drinking water. On the other hand,” he adds, “the evidence against systemic fluoride intake continues to pour in.”
Why do the dentists still believe water fluoridation is safe? “I have absolutely no training in toxicity,” admits Dr. Limeback. “Your well-intentioned dentist is simply following 50 years of misinformation from public health and the dental association. Me too. Unfortunately, we were wrong.” Last year, before the University of Toronto Department of Dentistry. Dr. Limeback apologized to faculty and students and told them that he had unintentionally mislead his colleagues and his students. Dr. Limeback admitted, “For the past 15 years, I had refused to study the toxicology information that is readily available to anyone. Poisoning our children was the furthest thing from my mind. The truth was a bitter pill to swallow. But swallow it I did.”