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The Fluoridation Debate Rages On
For many decades, the debate regarding the fluoridation of municipal water supplies in the United States has gone back and forth. With the advent of the internet and easier access to health and nutrition information, this debate has intensified even more. But what exactly IS fluoridation anyway, and why should anyone care about it? Is it actually harmful, or are people getting carried away with conspiracy theories? Let’s explore this topic in more detail.
Fluoride is an ionic compound associated with the element fluorine, which is found in nature in various types of rocks. So how does this chemical linked to an element found in rocks end up in drinking water?
In the mid-20th century, the United States government began adding fluoride to the water supplies of cities and counties around the country, a process which became referred to as fluoridation. This was done for public health reasons.
Proponents of fluoridation believed (and continue to believe) that the chemical is a public health benefit because it reduces the likelihood of tooth decay. The outermost layer of teeth, known as the enamel, can be weakened over time by exposure to high amounts of sugar (soft drinks and candy are especially bad in this regard). When this happens, cavities can form.
The enamel of the human tooth is composed of a special compound of hydrogen, phosphorous, oxygen and calcium, and is called hydroxyapatite. Scientists believe that fluoride can help the hydroxyapatite compound stay strong and prevent the weakening of the enamel.
So how much fluoride is in your water, exactly? When the practice began, the Department of Health and Human Services in the US allowed a range of 0.7 to 1.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water. In 2015, the upper limit was lowered to a maximum of 0.7 milligrams due to the greater amount of fluoride in products like toothpaste.
But does it actually work?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), yes, it does. This US-based health agency states that levels of tooth decay and related conditions have dropped by quite a bit since fluoridation was introduced.
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Having said all that, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s case closed regarding the effectiveness and safety of fluoridation. Critics point out that while statistics may show improvement in levels of tooth decay after the implementation of fluoridation, tooth decay has also gone down in countries where fluoridation hasn’t been practiced, such as those in Europe. It raises the question: Are general improvements in dental hygiene more effective than altering people’s drinking water?
To add to the confusion, a recent report in Newsweek detailed the explosive findings concerning fluoridation by the Chochrane Collaboration, a highly regarded group of doctors who research the effectiveness of public health policies. Their comprehensive review of studies concerning fluoridation revealed that there was hardly any real evidence that fluoridation was effective in reducing the prevalence of cavities. The statistical significance was negligible—at best.
“Frankly, this is pretty shocking … This study does not support the use of fluoride in drinking water” claimed Thomas Zoeller, a University of Massachusetts-Amherst-based scientist who participated in the review. Based on this research, it would appear that the improvements in public health education regarding tooth brushing and sugar consumption have a greater affect than what’s added to tap water.
There are also arguments against fluoridation on ethical grounds. A strong case can be made that it constitutes medicating the public without their consent or knowledge. The response to this might be the safety limits regarding dosage (currently 0.7 milligrams per liter of water). But dosage doesn’t necessarily correlate with exposure. Some people will, simply due to the type of job they have or for other reasons, become exposed to more fluoride than others.
It’s a fact that at very high doses, fluoride is toxic, and can act as an endocrine disruptor. A meta-analysis of fluoridation studies by the National Institute of Health has found that areas with higher concentrations of fluoridation in the drinking water had higher levels of behavior disorders in children and lower IQs versus areas with less fluoride in the water.
READ ALSO: 8 True Facts About Fluoride Infographic
As more and more research is done and becomes public knowledge, the tide may begin to turn against fluoridation. Research the topic and educate yourself, and inform your representatives about your wishes regarding fluoride in your water. People put it into water, and people have the power to stop putting it there too.