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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Jeff Irish and Robert C Dickson: What you need to know about fluoridation

By Jeff Irish and Robert C. Dickson, M.D.

Spokane’s voters have rejected water fluoridation three times. City council should respect the enduring wisdom of our citizens – which has been based on sound science all along – to keep our water safe and clean.

Fluoridation has always been controversial, but there’s agreement on several objectives: We all want fewer cavities, proven safety, and wise use of our tax dollars.

Let’s examine each issue.

Is it safe? No. The strongest scientific evidence is neurotoxicity – brain damage. Sixty-five studies, several funded by the National Institutes of Health, found higher fluoride levels can increase ADHD rates and lower IQs in children. Analyzing the data, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, a Seattle physician, concluded “I would not want my wife to drink fluoridated water” if she was pregnant.

The science is so robust it’s the focus of a historic lawsuit in federal court against the EPA for allowing fluoridation, to be decided in the next five months. The judge has said “there is serious evidence here” of fluoridation’s neurotoxicity and EPA should “take a second look.” This case may very well be the beginning of the end of fluoridation.

It’s not just brain damage. The National Research Council’s report “Fluoride in Drinking Water” is considered the most comprehensive review on fluoride’s wide-ranging toxicity. Although not charged specifically to evaluate fluoridation, NRC concluded that fluoride is an endocrine disruptor and increases risk of dental fluorosis, hypothyroidism, diabetes and kidney disease, among others. NRC’s identification of both the known risks and need for further research flatly contradicts proponents’ insistence that fluoridation’s been proven safe for everyone.

Is it effective? Minimally, if at all. A state survey ranking 20 counties by cavity rates puts Spokane near the middle (ninth). Five of the eight counties with higher cavity rates have either naturally or artificially fluoridated water. There was little correlation between fluoridation and cavity rates. Instead, household income was the major factor linked to dental health.

Proponents cite a 25% cavity reduction, but peer-reviewed science shows this is less than one cavity per child, hardly the efficacy that prevents emergency dental surgery. Even proponents acknowledge fluoride mainly acts topically, not through ingestion. And World Health Organization data show fluoridated nations have essentially the same cavity rates as nonfluoridated ones.

A highly publicized study in Calgary, Canada, found that cavity rates increased after the city council voted to stop fluoridating in 2011. But a follow-up study showed cavities were increasing just as much before 2011 as after. Stopping fluoridation made no difference whatsoever.

Is it cost-effective? It would be hard to find a more inefficient, wasteful use of taxpayer money. Over 98% isn’t even ingested, but goes down the drain through toilets, showers, sinks, lawns and industrial use.

The city water department estimated in 2001 that fluoridation would raise water rates 2%. Even if outside sources paid most upfront expenses, the cost of the chemicals and operations is estimated at $600,000 a year. Water bills could increase, the last thing taxpayers need in this time of COVID-19 – induced economic stress.

Proponents tout studies showing that every $1 spent on fluoridation saves about $30 on dental bills. This figure is highly questionable, but more importantly, none of the studies considered medical costs from fluoridation’s health risks.

Moreover, economic studies show every one-point decrease in IQ equates to $18,000 in loss of lifetime earnings. Scientific studies have shown losses averaging 4-5 IQ points from fluoridation, causing major personal financial harm. But even more tragic is the human cost – the permanent impairment of children whose potential has been cut short.

Spokane residents can choose to get fluoride in toothpaste and mouthwash. But no one should be forced to ingest a drug they don’t want through the drinking water. Once it’s fluoridated, the only alternatives are expensive filter systems or bottled water.

This isn’t fair to anyone, but it’s especially unjust for low-income populations, including a higher percentage of minority families, who can’t afford it. They must put themselves in harm’s way – they have no choice.

This isn’t right. We must say no to this obsolete, ill-advised practice.

To learn more, please view the League of Women Voters forum tomorrow (Thursday) night on Zoom.

Jeff Irish is chair of Safe Water Spokane (SafeWaterSpokane.org), a volunteer citizens group opposing fluoridation. Robert C. Dickson, M.D., is a practicing physician in Calgary, Alberta, and founder of Safe Water Calgary (safewatercalgary.com), a volunteer citizens group opposing fluoridation.

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