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Ask Ecogirl February 2013 - Should We Fluoridate Our Water?

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Ask Ecogirl February 2013 - Should We Fluoridate Our Water?

by Patricia Dines

Over the past few years, a controversy has been brewing in Sonoma County over the proposed addition of fluoride to the water supply for most of our homes, schools, businesses, and restaurants. This issue is coming before the Board of Supervisors again in the next month or two, when they’ll discuss the feasibility study and recommendations.

So you might be thinking, “But isn’t fluoride a good thing?” And the well-meaning proponents do make appealing claims of public dental health benefits, especially for lower-income people. 

Unfortunately, though, these claims don’t match the facts. This isn’t the quick fix some want it to be! So here’s what I see as the core problems with fluoridation. I hope that this helps us reject it and pursue more sensible solutions. (I’ve put my sources and more information at http://www.sonomacountygazette.com/cms/pages/EcoGirl6h.html.)

Key facts

First, I want to say that I do feel that fluoride can promote dental health — when it’s (1) pharmaceutical-grade, (2) applied topically to tooth surfaces via toothpaste or a dentist, (3) in small controlled doses, and (4) in ways that match a person’s needs and choices. 

However, putting fluoride into our public water fails on all four of these counts. There are vital differences between fluoride in dental products and in municipal water. Specifically: 

1) The fluoride used in municipal water fluoridation is not pharmaceutical grade. It’s not even the same fluorine compound. Plus it’s often industrial waste that’s otherwise illegal to discard in the environment and contaminated with toxics like arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury — even radioactive particles! 

2) Putting fluoride in the water does not apply it topically but systemically (in the whole body). It’s like drinking sunscreen to try to prevent sunburn! Ingestion of fluoridated water has been linked to significant health harm, even at low levels, including: increased hip and other bone fractures, bone cancer, arthritis-like symptoms, lowered fertility, decreased IQ, dementia-like effects — and mottled and brittle teeth (called dental fluorosis). Yes, drinking fluoridated water can actually harm teeth!

3) Water fluoridation does not offer small controlled doses, and can easily push people over safe exposure levels. That’s especially true since we’re also exposed through our toothpaste, food, beverages, and industrial pollution. 

4) Many “non-target” people would be consuming fluoride against their will. This includes those medically advised to avoid fluoride (e.g., infants and kidney patients) and those sensitive to it at low levels (who’d suffer fatigue, headaches, rashes, and gastrointestinal problems).

But the most important point is that fluoridating water is actually not proven to improve dental outcomes. The Fluoride Action Network says, “There has never been a single randomized clinical trial to demonstrate fluoridation’s effectiveness or safety.” The studies that launched fluoridation decades ago have been dismissed by experts for highly unscientific methodology. Over the past 50 years, tooth decay has dropped at similar rates in all western countries, most of which never fluoridated. 

The bottom line is that quality fluoride compounds can be helpful as medicine but only when administered in professional ways, not broadcast in our shared water. That’s why most developed countries do not fluoridate their water supplies, including Japan and nearly all of western Europe.

Additional harmful impacts

1) Fluoridation would burden, not help, low-income folks. People with inadequate nutrition are more vulnerable to fluoride’s harmful effects. Plus, low-income people can’t afford expensive water systems to remove fluoride, for instance to avoid giving it to infants. 

2) Nearly all fluoridated water ends up in the environment, through direct use and sewer systems, and at levels shown to harm salmon and other water creatures. Fluoride is also known to hurt crops, livestock, trees, and plants. 

What you can do

1) Sign, forward, and Facebook this petition against Sonoma County fluoridation. www.change.org/petitions/sonoma-county-board-of-supervisors-stop-planning-for-fluoridation-of-public-water-supply

2) Tell your Supervisor that you’re opposed to fluoridation. Speak in respectful fact-based ways, to show that this isn’t a wacky fringe issue. http://supervisors.sonoma-county.org

3) Watch for and participate in the upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting.