Water fluoridation is a process of adding fluoride to drinking water. The aim of water fluoridation is to reduce tooth decay by increasing the concentration of fluoride in saliva and plaque, where it inhibits the formation and growth of dental caries. In many countries, the public water supply is fluoridated to reach as many people as possible. However, there are some who oppose this process on the grounds that it is pharmacologically obsolete as well as an infringement of individual rights. Let’s take a closer look at both sides the water fluoridation controversy.
Water fluoridation began in the United States in 1945. The first community to fluoridate its water supply was Grand Rapids, Michigan. Today, about two-thirds of Americans receive fluoridated water through their tap. In the UK, water fluoridation is more controversial. Less than ten percent of the population receives fluoridated water, and there are calls to stop the practice altogether.
There is strong evidence that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay. A systematic review of the available research found that water fluoridation reduces cavities by 26% in baby teeth and 27% in permanent teeth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called water fluoridation one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.
The CDC recommends a level of fluoride in water of 0.70 ppm (parts per million). At this level, they say the risk of dental fluorosis (a cosmetic condition that results in white spots on teeth) is low, while the benefits to dental health are high. However, some scientists have challenged this recommended level, claiming that it may cause other serious health problems.
Some serious health problems associated with fluoride consumption are skeletal fluorosis, brain damage, problems with the thyroid gland, reproductive system, and nervous system. A study in China found that children who lived in areas with high levels of fluoride in their water supply had lower IQ scores than children who lived in areas with lower levels of fluoride.
Another argument against water fluoridation is that it is an infringement of individual rights. In the United States, some communities have put forward ballot initiatives to make water fluoridation optional. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that water fluoridation is not a violation of constitutional rights.
All of this brings the water fluoridation controversy to the forefront with the question of whether or not fluoridation is still necessary? Fluoride is added to many products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash. In addition, increased awareness of dental hygiene has led to people brushing and flossing more regularly. However, the CDC says that water fluoridation is still necessary because it reaches people of all ages, even those who may not have access to other fluoride products. However, the evidence suggests topical fluoride is more effective than ingested fluoride in reducing cavities without the health risks to younger children.
For deprived groups in maturing countries, international and national agencies and dental associations across the world support the safety and effectiveness of water fluoridation. Proponents of water fluoridation see it as a question of public health policy and equate the issue to vaccination and food fortification. The United Nations’ World Health Organization supports fluoridation and has stated that it is “one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent dental cavities over a person’s lifetime.”
Other dangers that should be noted but not necessarily conflated with fluoridation include the release of non-pharmaceutical grade fluoride into the environment. Fluoride is a hazardous waste product from the phosphate fertilizer industry. It is classified as a “restricted use” pesticide by the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, it is a known endocrine disruptor and has been linked to thyroid problems, cancer, and bone fractures.
Additionally, a recent study found that fluoride exposure during pregnancy was associated with lower IQ scores in children. The study’s authors say that this is “the most robust study to date of prenatal fluoride exposure and suggests that the effects of fluoride are more potent than previously recognized.”
The study has led to calls for more research on the safety of water fluoridation. The American Dental Association says that the study is “not definitive” and that more research is needed. The CDC also says that more research is needed to understand the potential risks of water fluoridation.
Should we question the motives of philanthropists such as Bill Gates, who are strong supporters of water fluoridation? He has stated that “fluoride is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to prevent cavities.” The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also donated millions of dollars to support water fluoridation projects around the world.
Again, not to conflate the two issues but it is worth noting, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given money to support population control programs in developing countries. In 2012, they gave $560 million to the Population Council, an organization that promotes family planning and reproductive health. They have also given money to support research on new contraception methods, such as a $30 million grant to the Population Foundation of India in 2013. However, the Gates Foundation states that it does not have an explicit policy on population control.
There are many other world leaders and moguls around the world that subscribe to the same philosophies of Bill Gates, and some say we should let them continue their efforts of trying to make the world a better, cleaner, healthier place to live. After all, the World Health Organization and many other reputable organizations support water fluoridation. These world leaders have the resources to make a difference and they are using them. On the other hand, should we not be suspicious of their motives?
The debate over water fluoridation is likely to continue as new studies are published. In the meantime, it is important to weigh the risks and benefits of water fluoridation and make an informed decision.
Do you think water fluoridation is still necessary? Why or why not? Contact us, we would love to hear your thoughts on water fluoridation controversy.