Water Fluoridation is the controversial but nonetheless practiced addition of fluoride to the public water supply to help prevent and reduce tooth decay and cavities. Controversial, because for every source listing the benefits of fluoridation there is another citing just as many negative side-effects (and both points of view are backed up by scientific research and qualified experts’ opinion). Practiced, because the United States, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Spain, the UK, and Vietnam are just a few of the countries in which this measure as, to different degrees, been introduced.
Let’s therefore take a look the pros and cons of this practice and form our own point of view on the subject.
Although fluoride was once considered an essential nutrient, the U.S. National Research Council has since removed this designation due to the lack of studies showing it is essential for human growth, though still considering fluoride a “beneficial element” due to its positive impact on oral health. In Europe, only Ireland (73%), Poland (1%), Serbia (3%), Spain (11%), and the U.K. (11%) fluoridate any of their water. Most developed countries, including Japan and 97% of the western European population, do not consume fluoridated water.
The arguments against fluoridation of water and its relative consumption are numerous. Some of the most cited include:
Fluoride accumulates in the body, and there is no health agency monitoring its effects on population; it causes dental fluorosis; it is received by all demographics regardless of age, health or vulnerability, which means that children are the most exposed; there are alleged side effects which include neuro-toxic effects on the brain that lower IQ and impair visual-spatial organization, as well as negative effects on the thyroid and pineal gland functions; it may damage bone, with some studies linking fluoride to arthritic symptoms and bone cancer; The chemicals used to fluoridate water are not pharmaceutical grade, but rather remnants of fertilizing industries; Fluoridation is considered unethical in that it is not an individualized therapy, but rather one given without most patients’ knowledge or informed consent; and lastly, it’s effectiveness is not proved, considering that the levels of tooth-decay are decreasing in fluoridated countries just as much as they are in fluoridated ones.
The reasoning in favor of adding fluoride to tap water is just as consistent:
The goal of water fluoridation is to prevent tooth decay (dental caries), which is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases worldwide. Fluoride exerts its major effect by interfering with the demineralization mechanism of tooth decay. A 2000 systematic review found that water fluoridation was statistically associated with a decreased proportion of children with cavities. The evidence supporting the safety, efficacy, and cost-effectiveness of fluoridation of community water supplies comes from multiple sources covering 50 years of legitimate research published in peer reviewed journals. These all conclude that adding fluoride to drinking water is not only healthy, but also an important element in promotion of dental health. All residents of a community can enjoy community water fluoridation’s protective benefits regardless of a person’s income level or ability to receive routine dental care.
These are all good reasons to back up the provision of adding fluoride to tap water. However, from what I can see from research, the evidence is contradictory, and does not seem to take into account other factors that could affect the decrease in tooth decay registered. I also dislike the fact that this medication is distributed to a mostly unknowing population, a population that may include subjects that are sensitive to the chemical and may therefore be harmed by drinking tap water without even knowing. If some studies and as many experts (including Nobel prize winner Arvid Carlsson) suggest that the side effects are numerous and varied, the government should consider them. On what basis do the U.S. and other governments credit the studies in favor of fluoridation as opposed to the ones against them?
I therefore believe that more information should be made available to the population. The issue should be publicized and, ideally, be submitted to public referenda, so that communities are given the opportunity to make their own, informed, choice on the subject.
Furthermore, serious and targeted research should be conducted by governments on the subject, and those countries that do implement water fluoridation should definitely establish a monitoring health agency, to control the effects of such measure and thus assess possible counter-effects effectively and timely.
Useful links for your own information and independent research:
(a good point to start) But here are some more sources: