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Constable's Notebook - April 2009

“Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous Communist plot we have ever had to face?” Based on a recent presentation at a neighborhood meeting, this line uttered by General Jack D. Ripper in the 1960’s movie Dr. Strangelove continues to strike a nerve with many who believe that fluoride in our water supply is dangerous and that powerful forces are working to prevent the truth about fluoride from getting out.

In the early 1900s, Dr. Frederick McKay began an almost 30-year study to determine what was causing the staining of teeth in Colorado. He concluded that although stained, the teeth showed “a singular absence of decay” that was caused by the presence of fluoride in the water. Subsequent studies concluded that the presence of fluoridation significantly reduces the incidence of cavities. In 1945 some municipalities began adding fluoride to their drinking water. The City of Austin began fluoridating its water supply in 1973 after passage of a voter referendum. About 2/3 of U.S. drinking water is currently fluoridated.

Fluoridation opponents argue that fluoride contains a high level of arsenic, lead and chromium and has a cumulative effect on the body. There are some medical professionals in and out of government who have written that fluoridation of drinking water increases risks for osteoporosis, kidney and liver disease and cancer. In 2006 the National Academy of Sciences recommended that the EPA lower the 4 parts per million maximum allowable amount of fluoride but also acknowledged that only a fraction of Americans are exposed to that much fluoride in drinking water. Austin’s water supply averages less than 1 part per million. In 2006 the American Dental Association while supportive of fluoridation, recommends that infants avoid fluoridated water. Opponents also question the impartiality of organizations supporting fluoridation including the American Dental Association, American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and suggest that these organizations are “about profits as well as health.”

Those who support fluoridation agree that fluoride is toxic when consumed in excessive amounts, but the vast majority of drinking water is well below EPA maximum levels. They cite 140 studies conducted in 20 countries concluding that water fluoridation has reduced the incidence of cavities up to 40% in children and 35% in adults. The Center for Disease Control cites fluoridation “as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.” U. S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona wrote that “fluoridation is the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay and improve oral health over a lifetime, for both children and adults.”

It is a uniquely American phenomenon that despite near unanimity among national medical and scientific organizations in support of water fluoridation, a spirited debate continues in some quarters. While most Americans accept and support fluoridation, it is healthy for conventional wisdom to be periodically tested. After all, it was not all that long ago when medical professionals assured Americans that smoking was perfectly safe.

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