I wrote a piece for K/W “cultural curator” Hilary Abel and her excellent blog/zine, Qatalyst. It’s about water fluoridation. You can read it below.
Over the past decade, water quality has become a greater concern for Ontarians. The (in)famous and tragic wake-up call occurred in May 2000 in Walkerton, where the public groundwater supply became contaminated with one of the few toxic strains of E. coli (0157:H7). Farm runoff from an intense storm impacted nearby municipal wells that were known to be vulnerable to surface contamination. This event resulted in at least seven deaths and 2,500 illnesses.
Although contaminants like E. coli are of significant concern to public administrators and water users alike, other water quality issues have received their fair share of attention. A prime example is the fluoridation of municipal water. Health units, researchers, and government bodies (including Health Canada) support water fluoridation, citing that the introduction of water fluoridation has resulted in improved dental health across the world (fluoride helps to prevent tooth decay and cavities).
Ontario drinking water engineers regularly monitor the concentration of fluoride in their source water, as many parts of Ontario experience high levels of naturally-occurring fluoride in their water supply. This is due to the dissolution of local minerals in bedrock or soil where groundwater is extracted. Anthropogenic sources of fluoride contamination do exist but are less common. Other jurisdictions which have low levels of fluoride fluoridate their water at treatment plants before it is distributed to users. Both Ontario and the World Health Organization have a Maximum Acceptable Concentration of 1.5 mg/L of fluoride in drinking water.
Although large government and scientific institutions continue to support fluoridation, significant opposition from the public and members of the scientific community has formed around the issue. Comprehensive studies from Canada (Locker, 1999), the U.S. (Yiamouyiannis, 1990), and New Zealand (Colquhoun, 1998) showed no significant differences in dental health between fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas. Western European countries have vocally opposed fluoridation and have experienced the same decline in dental decay as North America. Some studies have proposed many reasons why dental decay has decreased in non-fluoridated communities since the 1930s. They include the tremendous increase in nutrition and fresh fruit and vegetable consumption assisted by the introduction of household refrigerators. Cheese consumption has also greatly increased, which is known to have anti-decay properties (Colquhoun, 1998).
Even more interestingly, where fluoridation has been discontinued in communities from Canada, Germany, Cuba and Finland, dental decay has not increased but has actually decreased (Maupome 2001; Kunzel and Fischer,1997,2000; Kunzel 2000 and Seppa 2000). Other research indicates that the benefits of fluoride are much greater if they are applied topically (using toothpaste with fluoride to brush directly on your teeth) rather than systemically (drinking fluoridated water and spread throughout the body). This could make swallowing fluoride unnecessary and potentially harmful, increasing the risk of dental and skeletal fluorosis especially in young children.
So where does this leave us?
Questioned research from the original fluoridation studies in the mid 19th century, potentially better dental health in non-fluoridated areas, increasingly mixed opinions between the medical orthodoxy and new research, continued support from U.S. and Canadian health agencies, and the likelihood that all of fluoride’s benefits could simply come from your Colgate or Crest rather than your kitchen tap.
Mind the paranoid hysteria and Orwellian politics online, but educate yourself. Even as a water nerd, there are some big flashing signs to seriously question business as usual. Get on your boots.
And some top Google Search results for your consideration:
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/environ/fluor-eng.php – Health Canada “Fluoride and Human Health” document
http://www.health.gov.on.ca/english/public/pub/ministry_reports/fluoridation/fluor.pdf – Benefits and Risks of Water Fluoridation. Please note the authors do not address topical vs systemic application of fluoride which can significantly impact its benefits and risks.
http://www.fluoride-journal.com/98-31-2/312103.htm – an article about New Zealand’s chief dental health official and why he changed his mind on water fluoridation
http://www.fluoridealert.org/50-reasons.htm – 50 reasons to oppose fluoride. At first I dismissed this “Fluoride Action Network”, but the list of researchers which are members of the network is compelling.