In anticipation of our town’s coming debate over water fluoridation, I’ve been reading far and wide. Perhaps many of us have assumed that fluoridating water supplies is a no-brainer, a sound public health measure. I’ve come away from my reading, however, rethinking this common assumption.
Recent research suggests that ingested fluoride is not at all harmless, as we thought decades ago. According to the National Research Council. a U.S government agency, ingested fluoride can affect the developing brain and can lower intelligence in children. It can diminish bone strength and increase the risk of fractures. A Harvard study linked fluoride to a serious bone cancer in males under 20.
As an endocrine disruptor, fluoride can, in doses found in drinking water, adversely affect thyroid function. In animal studies, drinking water concentrations of fluoride have been linked to dementia-like conditions.
In addition, most of the chemicals used to fluoridate drinking water are not pharmaceutical-grade, but rather are industrial waste products from the fertilizer industry.
While I applaud community members’ concern for the dental health of our children, and especially low-income children, research has shown that individuals with inadequate nutrition have a greater susceptibility to the toxic effects of ingested fluoride. Dr. Kathleen Thiessen, a member of the National Research Council’s review panel, observed, “I would expect low-income communities to be more vulnerable to at least some of the effects of drinking fluoridated water.”
Does our community really want to take this risk in the face of a growing body of research questioning the safety of fluoridated water? I think the money used to fluoridate our water would be better spent on programs that increase the accessibility of dental care for all — including topical fluoride applications if parents so desire.