The big hope for fluoride was its ability to immunize children’s developing teeth against cavities. Rates of dental caries were supposed to plummet in areas where water was treated. Yet decades of experience and worldwide research have contradicted this expectation numerous times. Here are just a few examples:
* In British Columbia, only 11% of the population drinks fluoridated water, as opposed to 40-70% in other Canadian regions. Yet British Columbia has the lowest rate of tooth decay in Canada. In addition, the lowest rates of dental caries within the province are found in areas that do not have their water supplies fluoridated.(33)
* According to a Sierra Club study, people in unfluoridated developing nations have fewer dental caries than those living in industrialized nations. As a result, they conclude that “fluoride is not essential to dental health.”(34)
* In 1986-87, the largest study on fluoridation and tooth decay ever was performed. The subjects were 39,000 school children between 5 and 17 living in 84 areas around the country. A third of the places were fluoridated, a third were partially fluoridated, and a third were not. Results indicate no statistically significant differences in dental decay between fluoridated and unfluoridated cities.(35) The benefit to fluoridated communities, if there is any, amounts to 0.6 fewer decayed tooth surfaces per child, which is less than one percent of the tooth surfaces in a child’s mouth.(36)
* A World Health Organization survey reports a decline of dental decay in western Europe, which is 98% unfluoridated. They state that western Europe’s declining dental decay rates are equal to and sometimes better than those in the U.S.(37)
* A 1992 University of Arizona study yielded surprising results when they found that “the more fluoride a child drinks, the more cavities appear in the teeth.”(38)
* Although all Native American reservations are fluoridated, children living there have much higher incidences of dental decay and other oral health problems than do children living in other U.S. communities.(39)
* A 1999 study of water fluoridation in Italy shows that parents’ socieconomic status, area of residence, and children’s sweets consumption are more significant predictors of dental caries than fluoride consumption. The authors conclude that universal fluoridation is an inadequate approach and the decision to fluoridate or defluoridate water requires careful epidemiological consideration.(40)
* A 2001 article in the Journal of the American Dental Association admits that the fluoride that is swallowed and incorporated into teeth is “insufficient to have a measurable effect” on reducing cavities.(41) This is a stunning admission from the ADA, historically one of the principal supporters and defenders of water fluoridation.
* A follow-up of a study of the town of Kuopio, Finland six years after fluoridation was discontinued found no increase in dental caries. The authors conclude that fluoridation was unnecessary to begin with.(42)
* A study comparing prevalence and incidence of caries in 2,994 life-long residents of British Columbia, Canada, in grades 5, 6, 11, 12, found that caries incidence was not different between the still-fluoridating and fluoridation-ended communities.(43)
* In 1997, following the cessation of drinking water fluoridation in La Salud, Cuba, caries prevalence remained at a low level for the 6- to 9-year-olds and appeared to decrease for the 10/11-year-olds. In the 12/13-year-olds, there was a significant decrease while the percentage of caries-free children of this age group had increased from 4.8 (1973) and 33.3 (1982) up to 55.2%.(44)
* A 1998 study conducted in New Zealand found that “when the timing of various forms of fluoride supplementation is correlated with the decline in caries, the decline continues beyond the time of maximum population coverage with fluoridated water and fluoridated toothpaste.” The authors call for a “reassessment of the fluoride effect.”(45)
* In contrast to the anticipated increase in dental caries following the cessation of water fluoridation in the German cities Chemnitz (formerly Karl-Marx-Stadt) and Plauen, a significant fall in caries prevalence was observed. This trend corresponded to the national caries decline and appeared to be a new population-wide phenomenon.(46)
A 1999 New York State Department of Health study of 3,500 7-14-year-olds shows that children in fluoridated Newburgh, New York, have no less tooth decay but significantly more dental fluorosis than children from Kingston, New York, which has never been fluoridated. Since 1945, children of the two towns have been examined periodically in order to demonstrate that fluoridation reduces tooth decay. “This new research shows the experiment has failed,” the report concludes.(47)
In light of all the evidence, fluoride proponents now make more modest claims. For example, in 1988, the ADA professed that a 40- to 60% cavity reduction could be achieved with the help of fluoride. Now they claim an 18- to 25% reduction. Other promoters mention a 12% decline in tooth decay.
And other former supporters are even beginning to question the need for fluoridation altogether. In 1990, a National Institute for Dental Research report stated that “it is likely that if caries in children remain at low levels or decline further, the necessity of continuing the current variety and extent of fluoride-based prevention programs will be questioned.”(48) This is a startling claim coming from the very same governmental organization that spearheaded the drive for compulsory water fluoridation.
A 1999 review of literature conducted by Dr. Hardy Limeback, a long-time advocate of water fluoridation in Canada, indicates that the topical effect of fluoride is its primary mechanism for the prevention of dental caries. Swallowing fluoridated water is ineffective and unnecessary. Limeback concludes that everyone working in the dental health field must examine more closely the risks and benefits of fluoride in all its delivery forms.(49) According to Dr. Limeback, head of preventive dentistry at the University of Toronto, ‘Dental decay rates in North America are so low that water fluoridation provides little to no benefit whatsoever these days. In fact, studies show that when you turn the water fluoridation taps off and look for dental decay rates, they don’t move whatsoever. There is no increase in dental decay when you stop fluoridating.(50) Limeback adds that what you do see is an increase in unsightly dental fluorosis.(51)51 Today fluorosis occurs on two or more teeth in 30% of children in areas where the water is fluoridated, and not all in its mildest form.(52)
In a letter published in 1999,(53) dentist and public health official Dr. John Colquhoun, formerly one of New Zealand’s most prominent pro-fluoridation advocates and educators, explains how over the course of years he came to recognize that there was no benefit in water fluoridation, and that children’s dental health is slightly better in nonfluoridated areas than in fluoridated ones.
Most government agencies, however, continue to ignore the scientific evidence and to market fluoridation by making fictional claims about its benefits and pushing for its expansion. For instance, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “National surveys of oral health dating back several decades document continuing decreases in tooth decay in children, adults and senior citizens. Nevertheless, there are parts of the country and particular populations that remain without protection. For these reasons, the USPHS…has set a national goal for the year 2000 that 75% of persons served by community water systems will have access to optimally fluoridated drinking water; currently this figure is just about 60%. The year 2000 target goal is both desirable and yet challenging, based on past progress and continuing evidence of effectiveness and safety of this public health measure.”(54)
This statement is flawed on several accounts. First, as we’ve seen, research does not support the effectiveness of fluoridation for preventing tooth disease. Second, purported benefits are supposedly for children, not adults and senior citizens. At about age 13, any advantage fluoridation might offer comes to an end, and less than 1% of the fluoridated water supply reaches this population.(55) And third, fluoridation has never been proven safe. On the contrary, numerous studies directly link fluoridation to disease, including skeletal fluorosis, dental fluorosis, thyroid disorders, brain and kidney damage, Alzheimer’s disease, lead poisoning, and several rare forms of cancer. This alone should force us to reconsider its use.