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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Bill Osmunson, DDS, MPH: Fluoridation is about a lot more than teeth

By Bill Osmunson, DDS, MPH

By Bill Osmunson, DDS, MPH

I’m a dentist and I oppose water fluoridation.

I’m hardly alone. I know many dentists who feel the same but are reluctant to speak out for fear of criticism and controversy.

For many years, I supported fluoridation. Like nearly all dentists, I heard mostly good things about it in dental school and the American Dental Association has promoted it from the beginning.

But I also have a degree in public health, and when I started researching fluoridation, I found that it’s minimally effective at preventing cavities, if at all, and far more concerning, raises all kinds of health risks when ingested. I changed my mind. It was the rational, science-based thing to do.

There’s already a consensus that fluoride’s effectiveness is mainly topical, not swallowed. World Health Organization data show cavity rates in children have dropped as much in nations that don’t fluoridate as in those that do. And the Cochrane Collaboration, considered the gold standard of evaluating effectiveness, found no evidence of cavity reduction in adults nor any diminishing of the gap in cavity rates between low-income and higher-income families. I worked on two Native American reservations and two low-income communities. The wealthy have better health and teeth than the poor. My experience is consistent with quality research that fluoridation does not benefit the poor nor reduce the disparity.

But even supposing fluoridation was effective, how could it possibly justify the health risks it poses?

One of the most serious is neurotoxicity – permanent brain damage – the focus of the ongoing lawsuit against the EPA for allowing fluoridation. It’s based on massive, ever-increasing scientific evidence showing fluoride is lowering IQs and increasing ADHD rates in children. Please consider the science – and the scientists:

• The Fluoride Action Network has documented that out of 77 neurotoxicity studies, 69 linked higher fluoride levels to lower IQs.

• The National Toxicology Program’s most recent systematic review draft found that out of nearly 30 of the highest-quality studies done, all but two linked higher fluoride levels to lower IQs, 11 at levels in fluoridated water. Even the EPA acknowledged in court what it considered the four strongest studies. All were funded by the National Institutes of Health. Three showed significantly lowered IQs in children and one showed substantially increased ADHD rates – all at levels in fluoridated water.

• A recent study led by world-renowned scientists Philippe Grandjean and Bruce Lanphear determined that fluoride levels in water at 0.2 parts per million could lower IQs in children through ingestion from their mothers while pregnant. The supposedly “safe” fluoridation level of 0.7 ppm, more than three times higher, is proposed for Spokane. The authors concluded the results should inspire a revision of water-fluoride recommendations aimed at protecting pregnant women and young children. It’s no wonder that the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, a Seattle physician, said “I would not have my wife drink fluoridated water” if she was pregnant.

How can anyone look at all these studies – and the prestigious scientists that back them up – and say fluoridation is proven safe for everyone? Yet the ADA, CDC’s oral health department and organizations that follow them still support it. Either they’re unaware of the science or refuse to acknowledge it and we, the public, suffer the consequences.

Neurotoxicity is just the tip of the iceberg. The National Research Council found that ingested fluoride can increase fluorosis, diabetes and kidney malfunction and lower thyroid levels, among other conditions. Hypothyroidism, for instance, can cause a variety of harmful effects, including fatigue, weight gain, impaired memory, joint pain and depression. According to the American Thyroid Association, about 4% of Americans suffer hypothyroidism, many of them unaware of it. That’s over 8,000 people in Spokane who would be at a higher risk from this condition alone if the City Council decides to fluoridate the water.

We’ve seen this before – wrongfully defending substances for decades like lead paint, leaded gas, asbestos, DDT, Agent Orange and cigarettes before finally banning or restricting them. Meanwhile, millions of people were unknowingly – and unnecessarily – suffering serious harm to their health. We’re now witnessing the same scenario with fluoridation.

Fluoridation was a well-intended effort to reduce cavities and I have no doubt the vast majority of people who support it are similarly well-intended. But we can’t just turn our heads and pretend that fluoridation is only about teeth. Serious health risks have proven it a tragic mistake.

Bill Osmunson is a dentist and the founding director of the Institute of Comprehensive Dental Studies for Aesthetic Dentistry, Neuromuscular and Craniofacial Pain. He is a senior adviser for Fluoride Action Network.

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