Fluoride: the debate goes on
Two Calgary experts challenge conventional wisdoms of fluoridated water
James Beck and Robert Dickson
For the Calgary Herald
May 1, 2004
Consider this. If we as physicians were to prescribe to patients we know nothing about, a medically active, unproven drug at uncontrolled dosage and tell them to take as much as they want for the rest of their lives while not monitoring the side effects, how long would we be practising medicine before our licences were revoked? The answer, of course, is not for very long.
Unfortunately, many Calgarians are unaware that this is exactly what the Calgary Health Region is doing when it sanctions spending almost $1 million per year of taxpayers' money to add the volatile toxin hydrofluosilicic acid -- commonly known as fluoride -- to our otherwise decent drinking water. Again unfortunate is the deferring to, and reiterating of, the official party line on fluoride -- the blindly and oft repeated mantra of fluoride helps kids, especially poor kids.
Many professionals still repeat the mistaken conclusion that caries (tooth decay) have been reduced by up to 75 per cent since fluoride was introduced. ("Pros and cons of fluoride," by Peter Nieman, the Herald, April 8). Can you spot the disconnect here? Yes, caries have decreased by up to 75 per cent in the past 50 or so years since the first flawed studies promoting fluoride were published. But, the incidence of caries in Europe, which is 99 per cent non-fluoridated, and in British Columbia, which is fluorosilicic acid-free in more than 95 per cent of its communities, has also decreased by the same or even more. Is it possible that the impressive reduction in caries is not at all connected to fluoride in our drinking water but to a much healthier diet for children, more regular brushing of teeth and much superior and more accessible dental care for most, particularly kids?
Is fluoridation side-effect free? Absolutely not. Many good scientific studies show increased incidence of hip fractures because of fluoride ingestion as well as strong associations with thyroid problems (look at the vast number of patients in our western world on thyroid supplementation), adverse effects on the pineal gland, neurological sequelae such as deleterious effects on learning and intelligence, and association with several cancers as well. Indeed, higher doses of fluoride were used in Europe a few decades ago to treat overactive thyroid glands.
However, the most obvious and noticeable deleterious effect of fluoride is fluorosis. More than 40 per cent of children in fluoridated areas are showing signs of fluorosis and the old mantra of this side effect being "only cosmetic" is being rapidly abandoned, even by the most ardent promoters of fluoride. Those who have touted the monetary savings of fluoride by reducing the need for cavity repair are now admitting that the cost of repairing teeth damaged by fluorosis has far outstripped any possible savings and the gap is rapidly widening. Thus, say goodbye to the economic argument for fluoride. Also, promoters of this drug agree that what we see in the enamel we also see in our skeletal bones. Therefore, mottling, pitting and infrastructure destruction visible in our enamel is also occurring in all the bones in our body.
Most people are not aware that hydrofluorosilicic acid is a substance that is scrubbed out of smokestacks of the fertilizer industry. This chemical, not approved in North America for administration to humans, is contaminated with traces of lead, cadmium and arsenic. Less than a teaspoon of this toxin will kill an adult. How would the fertilizer industry deal with such a dangerous chemical and how many millions of dollars would safe disposal cost if they were not able to dispose of it for considerable profit in our drinking water? A better case can be made for the sodium fluoride we find in our toothpaste and in dentists' offices. Indeed, the topical administration of fluoride is the only safe, possibly effective and ethical way to utilize this drug.
Our natural fluoride comes from our mountain rivers in the form of calcium fluoride. In Calgary, we have either 0.2 or 0.3 ppm (parts per million) in our river systems, depending on which side of the city you live. An interesting development occurred last year when the Canadian Pediatric Society issued its guidelines and forcefully stated that the maximum amount of fluoride that a child should consume in drinking water was 0.3 ppm. That would, of course, make the addition of hydrofluorosilicic acid to our Calgary system not only redundant but also dangerous for our children, particularly because we already consume fluoride in many of our foods and beverages. However, the strong arms of the powers-that-be quickly pressured the society to alter their recommendations and guidelines and toe the line. Unethical? Most certainly. It reminds one of similar stories in our recent past, in particular those of thalidomide, hexavalent chromium (rent the movie Erin Brockavich), lead in our gasoline and paints (recommended level of lead has recently been downgraded to 0 ppm), and the latest controversy surrounding hormone replacement therapy for post-menopausal women.
Many dentists won't let fluoride through their front door. What are we doing blindly allowing its volatile distant cousin, hydrofluorosilicic acid, to be dumped in our pristine mountain water?
James Beck is a retired biophysicist formerly at the University of Calgary. Robert Dickson is a community family physician in Calgary.
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- 1957, 1961, 1966, 1971: Fluoridation of water is voted down.
- 1989: Fluoridation approved (115,900 to 102,762).
- 1998: Continued fluoridation approved (136,697/113,258)
- 1945: Brantford, Ontario is the first community in Canada to fluoridate its water.
- 1959: Red Deer is the first Alberta community to add fluoride to its drinking water.
- 1966: After legislation is changed to allow for a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority, Edmonton votes for fluoridation.
Fluoride content of water
In Calgary, fluoride content is maintained at 0.7 mg/l.
The natural fluoride level in Calgary's water varies between 0.15 and 0.3 parts per million.
Cost to build fluoridation facilities in Calgary was $1.4 million in 1989.
Sources: City of Calgary; Calgary Health Region; Calgary Herald Archives
© The Calgary Herald 2004