More than 70% of U.S. water supplies have industrial-grade fluoride chemicals added under the guise of preventing tooth decay.1 The problem is that fluoride, a toxin, is linked to an increasing list of health damages, while the usefulness of ingesting it to prevent cavities is highly questionable.
Steven Gilbert, Ph.D., founder and director of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders (INND), works to bring awareness about the health effects of toxic substances, water fluoridation included.
In his “Connecting the Dots for Health” paper, he summarizes how connecting the dots between the science, history and ethics of water fluoridation clearly supports the action to discontinue water fluoridation in order to significantly reduce fluoride ingestion.2
The History of Water Fluoridation
If you’ve ever wondered how a neurotoxic chemical came to be added to U.S. water supplies, Gilbert states:3
“The history of community water fluoridation is a reflection of the post WWII era of the 1950’s when many thought chemicals in one form or another could solve almost any problem. Our gaze was focused on the beneficial properties of the chemicals, not on the potential hazards. A classic example is DDT, that in addition to being a potent pesticide, almost killed off predatory birds and more recently was found to be harmful to humans.”
In 1945, fluoride was given the green light by the U.S. government following the release of a large amount of hydrogen fluoride from DuPont’s Deepwater, New Jersey, plant. A massive quantity of toxic hydrogen fluoride was produced as a byproduct of industry, and its disposal was an inconvenient and costly problem.
To avert lawsuits, industry came up with the clever idea of revamping fluoride’s image — they told people fluoride was good for their teeth and began adding it to public water supplies. Initially, fluoride waste from the aluminum industry is what went into drinking water.
But by the late 1940s, they’d found a cheaper source — the phosphate industry, a byproduct of making fertilizer. According to a paper in Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, a production of The Ohio State University and Miami University departments of history:4
“Many are surprised to learn that unlike the pharmaceutical grade fluoride in their toothpaste, the fluoride in their water is an untreated industrial waste product, one that contains trace elements of arsenic and lead.
Without the phosphate industry’s effluent, water fluoridation would be prohibitively expensive. And without fluoridation, the phosphate industry would be stuck with an expensive waste disposal problem.”
Gilbert also explains that the decision to fluoridate U.S. drinking water was based on two studies comparing cavity rates in a city with fluoridated water (Grand Rapids/Muskegon, Michigan) with those in one without (Newburgh/Kingston, New York).
They were supposed to run for 10 years, but when some cavity reduction was seen in early reports, the U.S. Public Health Service approved water fluoridation after only five years — with no data on long-term toxicity.5
Science Shows Fluoride Is Harmful to the Brain
More than 300 studies have shown fluoride’s toxic effects on the brain,6 including a 2006 National Research Council review that suggested fluoride exposure may be associated with brain damage, endocrine system disruption and bone cancer.7
In 2012, Harvard researchers also revealed that children living in high-fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low-fluoride areas8 and suggested high fluoride exposure may have an adverse effect on children’s neurodevelopment.
A study of Mexican women and children also raised concern, showing that higher exposure to fluoride while in utero is associated with lower scores on tests of cognitive function in childhood, both at the age of 4 and 6 to 12 years.9
Each 0.5 milligram per liter increase in pregnant women’s fluoride levels was associated with a reduction of 3.15 and 2.5 points on the children’s scores on the General Cognitive Index (GCI) of the McCarthy Scales of Children’s Abilities and the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI), respectively.
Fluorosilicic acid, which is the fluoride chemical added to drinking water, may also be contaminated with additional harmful compounds, including lead and arsenic. Children, in particular, are at risk from ingesting fluoride, but they are exposed to the same levels in drinking water as adults. According to Gilbert:10
“From the 1950s the PHS [Public Health Service] recommendation for the concentration of fluoridated water has been 1.0 mg/L (milligrams per liter or ppm) for most of the U.S., with a range of 0.7 to 1.2 mg/L. In 2015, this recommendation was lowered to 0.7 mg/L to reduce the toxic side effects of fluoride ingestion while attempting to maintain its beneficial effects.
For toxicological assessment, ingested doses are typically adjusted by body weight. Kids eat more, breathe more, and drink more than adults on a body weight basis so they will have higher fluoride doses than adults. Moreover, child organ systems such as the brain and bones are still developing, making them more vulnerable to the toxic effects of fluoride.”
More Ways Fluoride Harms Human Health
In terms of overall toxicity, the Fluoride Action Network (FAN) describes acute fluoride exposure as more toxic than lead but slightly less toxic than arsenic.11 In fact, fluoride is a common ingredient in pesticides used to kill rodents and insects. Chronically, exposure to low levels of fluoride is also harmful, not only to your brain but to your body as a whole.
Fluoride is an endocrine-disrupting chemical, and studies have linked it to the rising prevalence of thyroid disease,12 which in turn can contribute to obesity, heart disease, depression and other health problems. Fluoride was once used to reduce thyroid function in people with hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), and even low doses of 2 to 5 mg may be enough to affect thyroid function.13
“This dose is well within the range (1.6 to 6.6 mg/day) of what individuals living in fluoridated communities are now estimated to receive on a regular basis,” FAN notes.14 A 2012 study also found a link between fluoride exposure and osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer.15 A 2006 study also found a link between fluoride exposure in drinking water during childhood and the incidence of osteosarcoma among men.16
Such a link is biologically plausible, according to FAN, because bones are a principle site of fluoride accumulation, fluoride can be mutagenic at high enough concentrations and fluoride stimulates the proliferation of osteoblasts (bone-forming cells), which could increase the risk of malignancy.17
Increasing Dental Fluorosis Points to Harm
The majority of U.S. kids suffer from dental fluorosis, a discoloration and mottling of teeth caused by overexposure to fluoride in drinking water. While often brushed off as a cosmetic concern, this mottling is a sign of increased porosity of the enamel, and it’s permanent. If the tooth-forming cells are being harmed by fluoride, it’s likely that other cells in the body are too.
Research has found impairment in cognitive abilities among children with fluorosis (even mild fluorosis) compared to children with no fluorosis, for example.18 Studies have also found that children with higher levels of fluorosis have increased rates of cavities19 — a finding that suggests more is definitely not better, even when it comes to protecting against cavities.
According to Gilbert, “At a very mild or mild level, it causes white splotches or stripes on teeth. At moderate or severe levels, the mottling is more pronounced and can cause yellow or brown stains and pitting of the enamel, which can increase cavities.”20
According to the most recent data, the dental fluorosis rate in the U.S. is now a staggering 65 percent, with researchers stating, “The results of this study greatly increase the evidence base indicating that objectionable dental fluorosis has increased in the United States. Dental fluorosis is an undesirable side effect of too much fluoride ingestion during the early years of life.”21
Another study also revealed a more than 31% increase in the prevalence of dental fluorosis among 16- and 17-year-olds from 2011-2012 to 2001-2002. “The continued increase in fluorosis rates in the U.S. indicates that additional measures need to be implemented to reduce its prevalence,” those researchers concluded.22
Ethical Concerns: Fluoride Is a Drug
The third piece of Gilbert’s puzzle is ethics, and from this perspective adding fluoride to U.S. drinking water is akin to drugging the majority of a population without its consent. Gilbert notes:23
“Physicians prescribe drugs on an individual’s needs, ensuring that it’s pharmaceutical grade (not contaminated) and requiring a specific dose for a specific length of time. They also must inform their patients of potential harmful side effects. However, the final decision on whether to take the drugs rests with the patient. With fluoridation, all these safety protocols are violated, taking away the individual’s right of informed consent.”
People who are more vulnerable to fluoride’s effects, such as infants, pregnant women or those with kidney disease and diabetes, have no way of avoiding this drug in their drinking water if they live in an area with fluoridated water.
While it’s possible to install a water filter, such as reverse osmosis, to remove fluoride from your drinking water, or obtain a separate source of drinking water, this puts low-income families, who may not be able to obtain these alternatives, at a disadvantage.
Considering there are many studies showing fluoride’s toxicity, the Precautionary Principle, which states that preventive measures should also be put in place to avoid exposure if there’s evidence of a substance causing harm, should be put into place.
“For these and other reasons, a growing number of public health professionals are recommending that fluoridation of drinking water be discontinued,” Gilbert says, supporting his recommended action to “discontinue water fluoridation so that ingestion of fluoride is greatly reduced.” This is the norm in most of the world, as about 95 percent of the world’s population drinks unfluoridated water.24
Finally, fluoride is not the answer to healthy teeth. A comprehensive oral care plan should include addressing your diet, reducing your net carb (total grams of carbohydrates minus your grams of fiber) intake and, if needed, taking nutritional supplements that support your oral health, such as vitamins C and K2, and coenzyme Q10.
Regular brushing with fluoride-free toothpaste and flossing are also important, as are regular professional cleanings with a mercury-free biological dentist.