Fifty years ago, politicians and dentists pushed fluoride to improve our collective smile. Now we are warned to keep fluoridated water out of baby's formula.

Jeff Green

Hindsight? Today, as the devastating effects of chemicals in our water, food, and environment, capture ever more of our daily attention, a look back to see where things went wrong is needed. A closer inspection reveals that many of the chemicals most likely to do us harm were introduced into the environment without adequate testing, often by means of publicity blitzes that misled the public.

DDT. MTBE. And once again fluoride is a case in point. Last year, when the U.S. House Committee on Science asked for studies proving the safety or effectiveness of the substances that are used in 90% of the nation's fluoridation programs, the Environmental Protection Agency responded that it could not identify ANY long-term studies on the safety or effectiveness of these chemicals, despite claims that it is one of the most studied elements in the world. Moreover, research has confirmed over the past few years that fluoridation of water presents a definitive danger, not an advantage, to our health.

Why we are at risk
Over 50 years ago, when public policy makers proposed fluoridation of drinking water, they presented arguments that sounded valid to a public that was looking for a quick fix for tooth decay, but would allow sugar consumption to continue by the pound. Many communities rushed to add fluoride to their public drinking water, presuming that the additive would be incorporated in the enamel of the tooth and effectively resist decay. Now, that argument itself is decaying.

Policy makers, heavily influenced by industry lobbyists, bought a bill of goods, and without proper toxicological studies standardized what they considered to be an effective dose of fluoride. The standard was based on a hypothetical average amount of water that a child drinks each day. But they failed to consider the effect of ingesting larger amounts, or to take into account other sources of fluoride __ including the fluoride now commonly found in our foods.

According to the July 2000 cover story of the Journal of the American Dental Association, any limited benefit to be attributed to fluoride is a result of direct application to the surface of the tooth, not ingestion; while, according to the largest dental survey in the U.S., excessive ingestion of fluoride now effects two thirds of the children in fluoridated communities, causing dental fluorosis, a permanent scarring, in the form of white opaque spots, staining, or mottling of the tooth and erosion of the enamel.

Just as significantly, fluoride has been scientifically linked to serious adverse health effects and aggravation of existing illnesses, and this is compounded when the source of fluoride is hazardous waste from the phosphate fertilizer industry.

The actual substances used in 90% of the nation's fluoridation programs are the residues captured from the Air Quality Control scrubber systems of the fertilizer producers in central Florida ___ substances that can't be dumped into fresh water, buried in the ground or even given away, at any dilution, unless anointed a "beneficial product" intended for our drinking water.

This clever, but a less than ethical business ploy that forces toxic waste upon an unsuspecting population in the name of public health, is thought by many to be just the tip of the iceberg.

According to material safety data sheets on the offending substances (hydrofluosilicic acid and sodium silicofluorides), these wastes contain not only fluoride, but also lead, arsenic, and mercury, at levels above our public health goals for these contaminants--all of them carcinogenic--and are dumped, untreated, into our drinking water.

Fluoride accumulates in calcium rich tissues - not only the bones and teeth, but also the brain, heart and connective tissues. Furthermore, ingesting fluoride has been shown to increase the transport of heavy metals across the blood-brain and gut-blood barriers. According to studies totaling more than 400,000 children in three different states, the presence of the fluoride chemicals from the phosphate fertilizer industry in the drinking water results in a doubling of the incidence of the danger level of lead found in children's blood, which is correlated to increased learning disabilities, hyperactivity, crime and violence. And a highly significant animal study, which would commonly use dosages with 100 times the concentrations expected for humans, found an increased incidence of aluminum in the brain from fluoride exposures, at the same concentration as found in fluoridated drinking water, which resulted in kidney disease and lesions in the brain similar to those of humans with Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Hardy Limeback, head of the Department of Preventive Dentistry at the University of Toronto, Canada, had once been Canada's leading authority and long-time promoter of fluoridation. Now, he actively warns the public and health care professionals of the dangers of fluoride, advising mothers never to make baby formula with fluoridated tap water, and never to let children under three years of age use toothpaste with fluoride. Similarly, in 1994, both the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics revised their recommendations to limit the prescribed fluoride supplements for a child of 6 months to 3 years of age to the amount found in one cup of fluoridated water, and ask parents not to prepare baby formulas with fluoridated water.

Fluoride is long-recognized as an enzyme inhibitor, which can cause a range of undesirable side effects, including the suppression of thyroid hormones. (In the 1920s, a common treatment for a patient with an overactive thyroid was the addition of fluoride to a bath to allow absorption of the fluoride through the skin.) Fluoride also inhibits the production of melatonin and seratonin, both vital to our health. Similarly, fluoride has health consequences for diabetics by inhibiting the production of insulin. Of grave concern is the finding reported in the British journal, The Lancet, that fluoride inhibits or destroys acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme essential for proper neurotransmitter function necessary for learning and memory.

Four reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in the 1990's also correlated fluoridated water with increased risk of hip fractures, especially with exposures to women during their menopausal years, identified as a highly susceptible "window of injury" for fluoride exposures. A University of Toronto study indicates that residents of cities that fluoridate have double the fluoride accumulation in their hip bones compared to the non-fluoridated populations. Comparing statistics on two Canadian cities, Toronto (which has fluoridated the public water supply for almost forty years) and Vancouver, Dr. Limeback provides documentation that non-fluoridated Vancouver actually has a lower incidence of dental cavities, thus further discrediting the fluoridation anti-cavity theory.

When questioned about the safety of drinking fluoridated water, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, acknowledges that a person who drinks large quantities of water should avoid fluoridated water and drink bottled water. But that still doesn't tell us the whole story.

Fluoride is already in our foods
A significant aspect of the excess fluoride exposure problem goes back to the original assumptions of those who heavily promoted fluoridation years ago: that the optimal amount of ingested fluoride was 1 mg, and that the average child ingested 1 liter of water per day (1 mg of fluoride per liter=1 part per million, or 1 ppm). The calculations did not take into account any higher consumption level __ the margin-of-safety easily exceeded by merely drinking twice as much water as the arbitrary average. The calculations also assumed that there were no other sources of ingested fluoride.

Hindsight now confirms that the assumptions were dead wrong.

New amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act require that risk assessments for toxic contaminants, such as fluoride in public drinking water, take into account the total exposure from all sources. All this leads to the largely unknown fact that there is already fluoride in our foods and beverages--enough fluoride to register above the level acceptable by law in our water, or by common sense.

To answer an often asked question, few plants will take up fluoride through the roots, with the notable exceptions of high fluoride content in black and green teas; however, fluoride absorption does occur through leaf systems. Fluoridated water use in food manufacturing increases the presence of fluoride in beverages such as soda, and juices, as well as a long list of prepared foods, such as cereals. Pesticides present another significant source of fluoride exposure. As a result of fluoride-based pesticide residues on produce, researchers are finding that lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, raisins and other common foods are also subject to levels even higher than found in fluoridated drinking water. The commonly used pesticide, cryolite (containing both aluminum and fluoride), is found at alarmingly high rates in foods that easily absorb chemicals, such as potato skins, white grapes and strawberries. Commercial iceberg lettuce, in addition to having little nutritional value, may contain as much as 180 ppm of cryolite, raisins 55 ppm.

Ten years ago, a government toxicological profile revealed that as a result of multiple fluoride sources such as foods, beverages, and oral care products, non-fluoridated communities were already receiving the 1 milligram per day goal of fluoride, and communities with fluoridated water were ingesting three to seven times the recommended level, far surpassing the original margin-of-safety.

Can you filter the fluoride out?
The fluoride ion is smaller than the water molecule; so simple filtration devices will not remove fluoride. A more expensive and elaborate system is needed, such as distillation or reverse osmosis purification, which also requires more maintenance costs. Unfortunately, the common reverse osmosis and distillation processes available for home use can not produce enough water for taking a shower or bath on demand, leaving your largest body organ, your skin, through which you hydrate most effectively, open to daily assault. Even if you can remove fluoride from your water at home, you will still be subject to ingesting fluoride from foods served at restaurants or from prepared packaged foods, because most manufacturers and restaurant owners do not opt to use these expensive systems.

Labeling requirements for fluoride are limited to products making a specific health claim for the fluoride, making it almost impossible to easily determine total exposure to fluoride from all sources. You may wish to avoid concentrated juices from fluoridated communities, as the evaporation technique for removing the water, used in other food processing as well, leaves all additives and chemicals behind in the concentrate. Adding fluoridated water to reconstitute the juice will increase exposure even further.

Fluoride from other sources
Toothpaste, of course, is a common source of fluoride, and it is intentionally produced with higher concentration, resulting in approximately 1 milligram of fluoride in a pea-sized drop of toothpaste - equal to the amount found in 1 liter of fluoridated water.

Check the label on your toothpaste. With a warning to keep the product out of reach of children, and to contact a Poison Control Center if more than a dab is swallowed, why would a parent risk allowing it in a child's mouth when studies show that a high percentage will be swallowed?

Fluoride gel treatments from dentists contain such high concentrations (12,000 to 20,000 ppm) that, if absorbed through the mouth, can cause nausea, and if accidentally swallowed, can even cause death. Our saving grace is that the normal bodily response is to reject the acutely toxic substance by vomiting.

Few people are aware of the presence of fluoride through yet another vehicle intended to affect our body: commonly prescribed drugs. Antidepressants and psychotropic drugs such as Prozac, diet pills such as Phen-Fen (pulled off the market for heart valve disease), and the so-called "date rape" drug Rohypnol, as well as recently-recalled Baycol. The most commonly used anesthetics for general surgery are also fluoride-based. And if you thought you had no exposures in your home or car, Scotchgard was recently pulled from the market by 3M because of proliferation of its fluoride compound.

Taking control
What can you do? Because fluoride is now omnipresent, take steps to avoid ingesting fluoride in every way that you can to reduce your intake. Be as informed as possible and join the ranks of health-conscious citizens and researchers who oppose mass medication through our water.

For more information, documentation, fluoride content in foods, and legal, political, and grassroots activities across the U.S., as well as updates on the Congressional investigation on fluoride and the June 29, 2000 U.S. Senate hearing on Arsenic, Radon, and Fluoride, contact Jeff Green at Citizens for Safe Drinking Water at 800-728-3833, or e-mail him at, or visit Updates on safe drinking water and strategies you need to protect your drinking water are available.