Something in the Water: A Look at Compulsory Fluoridation

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Something in the Water
A Look At Compulsory Fluoridation

Heralded as one of the 10 most important advances in public health administration in the 20th century, water fluoridation has come under recent scrutiny. There are an increasing number of scientific studies concluding that while fluoride may be proven to help eliminate tooth decay, it may also contribute to several irreversible, debilitating conditions in the human body. Despite this new information, American communities continue to artificially fluoridate their water sources, citing the dogma that fluoride is for one's own good, a notion still championed by the American Dental Association. It seems that the potential for overexposure to fluoride, and the deleterious effects of such a thing on an individual's health and well-being, demands that the consumption of fluoride be a decision left to the individual, rather than government officials.

In the 1930s, American researchers noticed that certain communities shared an unsightly condition of speckled or mottled teeth, and the cause was the concentration of fluoride in the communal water supplies. Henry Trendley Dean, director of the dental health arm of the National Institute Health, studied the phenomenon, finding that while potentially undesirable results would arise from too much fluoride exposure, fluoride in low concentrations could actually strengthen teeth and stave off tooth decay (Fagin). With the prospect of the next-big-thing in dental hygiene dangling so alluringly, the world's first great experiment with water fluoridation began in 1945, centered on the population of Grand Rapids, MI (Fagin). Grand Rapids was chosen due to the high occurrence of tooth decay among its citizens, and within 6 years of the start date, marked improvement in the abatement of tooth decay was recorded. With this success, many communities began their own municipally instituted fluoridation programs, and within 10 years, fluoride toothpaste became the standard (Fagin). In the year 2000, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that 65.8% of American, public water systems were fluoridated, and that 57.6% of Americans were drinking from those sources (Macek et al. 130).

As noted by the great 16th century physician, Paracelsus, poison is determined by dosage. It is this fact that allows fluoride the flexibility to both destroy, in the form of pesticides, and improve a person's smile without destroying that person (at least not immediately), in the form of toothpastes. By current assessments, fluoridated water is entirely safe- that is, the benefits far outweigh potential risks- when the concentration of fluoride is 1 part per million (ppm), or about 1.5 milligrams per liter of water consumed (Fawell et al. 32-34).

It is by this guideline, established by the World Health Organization (WHO), that American municipalities fluoridate their water supplies (Bryson 222). However, the WHO release that contains this guideline also admits a glaring assumption in its rationale; the guideline is trustworthy inasmuch as, “water is the major source of fluoride exposure, and water consumption is reasonably constant in the population examined” (Fawell et al. 48). But, is it wise to assume that within any population individuals are consuming a consistently near-equal quantity of municipal water, or that water is the only contributing medium of fluoride?

Several studies indicate that the assumption is flawed. One particular study, involving two communities in Ethiopia, shows multiple sources of fluoride in addition to water, and varying concentrations of it within individuals of the same population with a common water supply (Malde et al. 579- 84). According to the study, “Fluoride is the 13th most abundant element found in the earth’s crust, and at least traces of it are found in all food and beverages” (Malde et al. 579), and these traces add to the daily intake of fluoride, causing unsafe concentrations within some, based on...
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