This can be a pretty super-charged topic to question.
But, why is that?
We agreed to water fluoridation back when lobotomies were popular and smoking was harmless.
Why should we ever stop asking questions?!
And when certain topics feel super-charged, there's usually a reason why. Why not save them our toughest questions of all?
Deep breath, here we go
After 70 years of water fluoridation, where do we stand? Is the practice still preventing cavities? Is it still safe?
Why do most countries reject fluoridation? Why are tooth decay rates no different for us than for nations who don't fluoridate?
Has the practice changed our lives for the better?
Or is it possible, for the sake of asking questions, that we've unwittingly fallen hook line and sinker for the greatest con of the 20th century?
Learning to overlook
When water fluoridation was first introduced to the public, fluoride was marketed as if it were a nutrient or a vitamin.
Fluoride not only showed up in our water, but gradually began appearing in every food and drink we consumed, our toothpaste, dental treatments, teflon pans and the list goes on.
Over time we slowly began to overlook something very important.
You see, unlike actual nutrients and vitamins, fluoride plays no essential role in sustaining human life.
What's the real harm done?
A big blow came in 2006 when The Environmental Protection Agency published the NRC's major findings.
The report found that, just like lead and mercury, fluoride is a developmental neurotoxin.
If a child ingests even a tiny amount of fluoride during a critical developmental stage, it can have lifelong negative impacts on the brain.
As a follow-up to these findings, researchers from The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a meta-analysis of 27 studies on fluoride and neurotoxicity. They not only found a correlation between decreased IQ and fluoride exposure, but they found that the number of IQ points lost was directly correlated to the amount of fluoride each child was exposed to.
While the NRC's research brought some much-needed attention to fluoride's harmful effects, the foreboding scientific literature has been out there for decades.
Studies have discovered strong links between fluoride and some of our society's most prevalent and debilitating diseases including cancer, heart disease, thyroid disease, bone fractures, and chronic bone disease.
But, surely all of this only exists at toxic levels and we're all ingesting safe levels, right?
The government admits to toxic levels of fluoride
You read that right. In 2015, due to mounting evidence and several lawsuits, our lawmakers recognized that they've been exposing us to dangerous levels of fluoride in our water.
For the first time in 53 years, the Department of Public Health Services (PHS) reviewed their recommended safe amount of fluoride - and decreased it by 25%.
The American Dental Association, CDC and FDA have also posted various (carefully worded) warnings against fluoride, including this one, which cautions caregivers against using tap water when mixing infant formula. Due to the high risk of fluoride toxicity, they suggest that caregivers either breastfeed or buy pre-made formula. If you're going to mix formula, you're instructed to buy fluoride-free bottled water (it has to be specifically marked) or a reverse-osmosis water filter.
For most, these warnings came too late. According to The National Survey of Oral Health in School Children, over 41% of American teens living in areas with fluoridated water show the physical signs of overexposure - fluorosis. Fluorosis is manifested as white flecks on the teeth.
After the PHS published their new safety guidelines, many pointed to research insisting that even with the recommended decrease, fluoride levels are still far too high.
And the PHS doesn't really know if the decrease will be enough to prevent ongoing toxicity, but they're just going to go with it and reevaluate in 10 years.
We've been trading our kid's IQ points in since the sixties? And now we're just going to use the next decade of children as test subjects?
What's the price we're paying for cavity prevention here?!
Why are you looking at me like that?
Don't tell me we're not even preventing cavities.
The Cochrane Collection, a group of doctors and researchers known for their comprehensive and reliable reviews of public health policies, recently set out to find if fluoridation really reduces cavities.
They couldn't locate one reliable study supporting water fluoridation in preventing cavities in adults.
They did find some evidence in the appearance of cavity reduction among children, but their confidence was low due to the flawed nature of the majority of the studies. "We had concerns about the methods used or the reporting of results in... 97 percent of the studies."
They concluded that there was very little contemporary evidence, meeting the Review's inclusion criteria, that evaluated the effectiveness of water fluoridation to prevent cavities.
Their results are published here.
But, the prevalence of tooth decay in our country has come down significantly. That has to count for something, right?
In 2013, The World Health Organization published a study that evaluated dental health throughout the world. They found that since 1970, all western nations have seen a similar decrease in tooth decay to the US - and 97% do not fluoridate their waters.
They go on to inform us that the US came in at #12 in rate of tooth decay decline overall. 8 of the countries that ranked higher than us do not fluoridate their waters.
Bottom line: The added fluoride in our water has one job to do. Given all of the risk we're taking on, we better have some rock-solid data to prove that it's at least getting that one job done. Well, we don't.
So the next question would naturally be: Who's profiting?
And the answer is: Tons of people.
But the biggest take-homes likely go to the aluminum and fertilizer industries (and the government to whom they pay taxes, of course).
How did this happen?
The manufacturing of fertilizer creates a toxic fluorine gas. All the way back in 1850, communities directly downwind from factories started experiencing human health crises and severe environmental damage. Once the lawsuits started, manufacturers made their smokestacks taller and fluorine began being dispersed high up into the atmosphere.
Same process, really. But the gases were dispersed over wider areas, so it made the blame tougher to place on the factories.
They seemed to be in the clear for a while, but then the industrial revolution hit and fluorine emissions skyrocketed. Widespread toxic effects began being recognized again and manufacturers had a problem.
They began to use tools called water scrubbers to trap emissions and store them in liquid form, but storing them was extremely expensive.
Charles McClure, who worked for the notoriously industry-influenced NIDR, had a plan.
Just like back in the 1850's, he'd make sure fluorine was dispersed over wider areas. And just like back in the 1850's, the factories would be tougher to blame for any problems caused by fluorine.
Edward Bernays (or "The Father of Spin") was fresh off his latest PR campaign - convincing women that doctors recommended smoking over eating - when he was hired by McClure. Bernays' new assignment would be to gather his "panel of expert doctors" and spin yet another story - one that would sell fluoride to the nation as an additive "recommended by your doctor and dentist for healthy teeth."
Once Bernays had successfully "manipulated the masses" and fluoride was widely accepted as a healthy way to fight cavities, it was time for the bait and switch.
Fluosilicic Acid (or hydrofluorosilicic acid) is the liquid that was being stored from trapped fluorine emissions. It contains arsenic, burns skin on contact, has a strong sour odor and eats through glass and concrete. It also happens to contain fluoride.
Rebecca Hamner, the EPA's Deputy Assistant for Water in 1983, wrote this letter defending the EPA's support of the decision to empty fluosilicic acid into our drinking water. She states:
"In regard to the use of fluosilicic acid as a source of fluoride for fluoridation, this Agency regards such use as an ideal environmental solution to a longstanding problem. By recovering by-product fluosilicic acid from fertilizer manufacturing, water and air pollution are minimized and water utility companies have a low-cost source of fluoride available to them."
The fact that she blatantly states that "water pollution will be minimized by emptying pollution into our water" is a serious mindbender, but anyway...
Just so we're straight, instead of creating a campaign that advocated for eliminating sugar or processed foods to prevent tooth decay, a highly toxic waste became a miracle substance and was added to our drinking water to "prevent" tooth decay.
McClure and friends not only kept the food processors in business, they also helped create a new market for toxic waste.
The situation we're in now clearly defies any sane person's logic. The fact that we're ingesting arsenic just to get fluoride, that we're giving our children brain damage and ourselves cancer and heart disease in the name of cavity prevention - are all things we would have never agreed to.
And we didn't. Not outright anyway.
There was plenty of public uproar over fluoridation in the 50's. But a little bit at a time, we began to overlook things - and eventually the shock wore off.
Today, the average American doesn't know much about fluoridation's history, or even the fact that there's still no credible data demonstrating that it even prevents tooth decay.
The truth remains, unfortunately, that in western medicine, prevention is rarely a real concept - And in America, money not only talks, it dictates.
What to do now
If you'd like to become an activist, join the Fluoride Action Network's movement to end water fluoridation.
When it comes to the health of you and your family, take the steps necessary to end your present exposure to fluoride.
Start with this list of recommendations for your daily routine, including buying a water filter that will remove fluoride and other associated chemicals.
It's extremely important to see a dental provider who practices true preventative dentistry and will consider your whole body's well-being before recommending treatment.
These types of dentists usually practice a form of holistic or biologic dentistry and will likely steer you far, far away from any type of fluoride treatment.
Dr. Judson Wall, a widely respected expert in the field of holistic dentistry and owner of Dental Solutions in Salt Lake City, Utah makes this promise to his patients:
"We only put materials into your mouth that are healthy. You will NOT be offered fluoride treatments, as fluoride is one of the worst toxins known to man, causing damage to the thyroid, bones and other organs in the body."
Your oral health is important, but your overall health is all you have. Make sure your dentist gets that. Schedule an appointment with one of our providers today.