Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reluctantly I say: "Take the fluoride out of our water."

Drinking water with fluoride doesn't scare me. I don't get concerned when my young granddaughter drinks a little London Ontario tap water containing fluoride. Yet, if it comes to a vote, I'll vote to remove fluoride from our tap water.

There are some valid concerns about fluoride in drinking water. Valid does not mean that these concerns will eventually be proven true but that these concerns are based on solid questions about the value of adding fluoride to a municipal water supply.

According to an article in The Globe and Mail:

"Scientists now believe that the main protective action from fluoride does not come from ingesting the chemical, with the teeth absorbing it from inside the body, but from direct absorption through topical application to teeth.

This means swallowing water is a far less effective way to fight cavities than brushing with fluoridated toothpaste. That may explain the steep decline in cavity rates observed in industrialized countries since the 1970s, irrespective of whether they fluoridate water. Almost all of Europe does not, and yet has seen a sharp reduction in dental caries."

Paul Connett, of the Fluoride Action Network and a main mover behind an upcoming presentation on the topic, argues:

"Fluoridation is an obsolete practice. It goes against all principles of modern pharmacology. The use of the public drinking water supply to administer the same dose of fluoride to everyone, from the infant to those who consume copious amounts of water (such as diabetics), goes against all principles of science because individ­uals respond very differently to one and the same dose and there are huge variations in the consumption of this drug."

The debate over the promised benefits vs. the potential health risks of fluoridating tap water is being rekindled in London Ontario and it is stacking up as quite the coming battle. The London Free Press reported that the meeting was "dubbed The Case Against Fluoride." No, that is the correct name of the event. It is taken from the book of the same name written by Connett. The paper is also warning readers that the arguments against "continued (fluoridation) can veer toward the near-conspiratorial."

But the arguments can also veer towards the thoughtful and reasonable. The Globe quotes Dr. Hardy Limeback, head of protective dentistry at the University of Toronto and a former advocate of fluoridation, "We don't know what the health implications are of a lifetime exposure to fluoride in drinking water," he says. Limeback says recent studies have raised concerns.

Dr. Limeback estimates the stopping of fluoridation may lead to a modest increase in tooth decay — one extra filling in every fifth child. Given the emerging data on its possible risks, he says, this would be a small price to pay.

Since this is a blog post and not a newspaper article, it is time to get personal. I have some strong positive feelings about fluoride, but not necessarily fluoride in our tap water. In the mid '50s I was part of a research study looking into the value of the topical application of fluoride to young teeth in preventing tooth decay.

A dental office was set-up in my public school and those of us involved in the test had our teeth painted with fluoride. We were told not to swallow but to hold the foul-tasting chemical in our mouths. After sitting with the fluoride on our teeth for some very long seconds, we spit the stuff out and had our mouths rinsed with water — non-fluoridated water. I can't say how many treatments I received but I do know it was a number.

No mouthful of fillings for this senior.
My adult teeth were very slow coming in. Four of my teeth were not treated and didn't appear till late in my teens. Over my lifetime I believe those untreated teeth have proven to be far less resistant to decay than my treated teeth.

Because of my personal experience, I am a big believer in fluoride applied by a dentist, or added to tooth paste, or sloshed about one's mouth in mouth wash. But placing fluoride in tap water seems an uneven way to deliver the stuff. Some kids drink more water than others and some kids drink non-fluoridated bottled water.

I know people who, since reading The Free Press series on the dangerous levels of lead sometimes found in our drinking water, buy bottled water by the giant jugful and take great care not to give their child a drink from the tap. They are not frightened of fluoride in their water but concerned about lead.

I also personally know a dental hygienist who advised her son to buy bottled, non-fluoridated water, for use in making her grandchild's bottled formula. This woman believes in fluoride but not for the very young. In children under a year, this reasonable woman advises people to refrain from using fluoridated tap water. This woman's approach is in agreement with the American Dental Association which recommended against giving fluoride-enhanced products to children less than one year old as studies have shown that infants who drink fluoridated water are at risk for dental fluorosis.

If you are interested in hearing Dr. Limeback discussing his position on fluoride, please check out the video posted on YouTube.

 The Free Press tells us that health officials are nearly unanimous in their support of fluoridation of  tap water. They also tells us that only about 30 countries worldwide add fluoride to their drinking water. A check of those 30 countries shows most are far from reaching 100 percent coverage; Many folks in those countries do not have fluoridated water.

And where they do fluoridate water, changes to the recommended amount to be added to the water supply are ongoing. Just this January the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lowered the recommended amount of fluoride to add to U.S. drinking water.

"HHS’s proposed recommendation of 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water replaces the current recommended range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams. This updated recommendation is based on recent EPA and HHS scientific assessments to balance the benefits of preventing tooth decay while limiting any unwanted health effects."

"The new EPA assessments of fluoride were undertaken in response to findings of the National Academies of Science (NAS)."

The opponents of fluoridation have some a formidable foes. For instance the British Medial Association said as recently as Jan. 10, 2010:

"Fluoridation of water is a cost-effective public health strategy for reducing tooth decay in a population. Fluoride has been found to be highly protective against dental caries, and there is no convincing evidence of any adverse risk to human health by the introduction of water fluoridation. Through targeting of areas with a high prevalence of tooth decay, artificial water fluoridation is an effective strategy for reducing dental health inequalties."

Oh, and about The Free Press use of the word dubbed as in "dubbed The Case Against Fluoride" — dubbed often indicates a nickname and may carry a slightly derogatory tone. Back when I worked at the paper a picky editor might have removed the word dubbed from the story. Sadly, it is the editors that have been removed and it is the flippant and possibly editorializing use of the word dubbed that remains.

If you got to the end of this post, you might be interested in my response to Ian Gillespie's rant "What next? Fluoride killing polar bears?"

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