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Editor's Blog

What You Do and Don't Know About Fluorine and Fluoride

By Kenneth Barbalace
[Wednesday, November 29, 2006]
Adding fluoride to public water systems stirs up a great deal of debate and controversy and much of this controversy is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what Fluorine and Fluoride are. Another fundamental misunderstanding is that whether something is harmful or helpful all depends upon the quantity consumed/ingested. For instance we have to drink water to survive, but drinking too much water can screw up the electro light balance in our body and kill us. Read more

8 comments:

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waterbabies said...

The article states "In areas where fluoride is added to drinking water, children are reported to have 70% fewer cavities than non-fluorinated areas." I wonder if a study has been done on the percentage of Alzheimers victims are in flourinated vs non-flourinated water areas. Also the article points out that flouride is attracted to fat, so it is used in pharmaceutical manufacture, fat soluable drugs linger longer. Fat coats our nervous system, so is the flouride attracted to our nervous system? Flourine is a by-product of aluminum manufacture. Isn't there concern about a relationship between aluminum ingestion and Alzheimers?
Also flourinated water only benefits developing teeth. After teeth are developed, there is no need to ingest flouride. Is it unreasonable to expect that there not be flouride in our drinking water?

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

Waterbabies,

The fluoridation of water and the use of fluoride toothpaste has been documented to vastly improve the oral health of the general population.

Contrary to what you claim, fluoride does continue to help strengthen teeth well after teeth have finished developing. It is not necessary, however, for us to ingest fluoride to get this benefit. As such the risk benefit of the fluoridation of public water supplies should be evaluated. HOWEVER, we should not be basing public health policy on fear and suspicion based on anecdotal evidence. Any shift in public policy needs to be done based on sound science that is generally accepted by the scientific community and not influenced by political or social pressures from either side of the issue.

Where many people get it wrong with fluoride is that they assume since consuming high levels of fluoride is harmful, so is consuming low levels of fluoride. This is true with so many chemicals. There are many compounds like fluoride that our bodies require in minute quantities that become absolutely toxic to us in massive quantities. What is important is that we get a beneficial dose of these chemicals without getting too much of a good thing.

Moderation is the key to whether something is healthful or harmful. In the case of fluoride in public water systems, the dosage is so low that the dose of fluoride received is normally well within safe levels. There is one notable exception to this, however, and we have written about it. There is a concern that infants who's diet consists of powdered baby formula that is reconstituted with tap water are at risk of ingesting too much fluoride due to the sheer quantity of formula they ingest relative to their body size. In the case of infants it has been recommended that when possible they be fed their mother's breast milk and if this is not an option (for whatever reason), then the baby formula should be reconstituted using bottled water. You can read more about this in our article ADA Recommendation for Fluoride in Infant Diets.

Again, given the proven benefit fluoride has shown to our oral health, it is important that as a society we do not act out of haste and unscientific fear if we discontinue the fluoridation of water. Rather that we need to make sure any such change in public health policy be based on solid science. We must remember that for many children from low economic status, fluoridated water is their primary source of the fluoride their teeth need. Do we want to condemn the children to mouthfuls of cavities out of other fears, which may not be founded in science?

Do I drink water from a public water supply? Yes I do. Is it fluoridated? I assume so. Am I overly concerned about it? No I am not. Do I think most people are overreacting to this issue? Yes, absolutely. To me the fear based around this issue is a sign of how poorly people understand science and how bad of a job our schools are doing in teaching science to students.

waterbabies said...

Hi Ken,

Thank you for the prompt response.
I'm willing for there to be a scientific study of the incidence of dementia (since Alzheimer's can only be confirmed on autopsy - at least, last that I heard) in areas of flourinated vs non-flourinated water supplies.
I drink tap water that is flourinated, but my parents haven't consumed flourinated water, since the supply was first contaminated with flouride in the '60's. They drank bottled water. Since 1970's when they moved to a farm with a well, they have consumed their well water. They are 91 and 88 years old, and have no signs of dementia.
So, I'm not opposed to analysis using scientific method.
Several of my friend's parents, who have been drinking flourinated tap water, have some serious dementia.
What do you think?

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

Anecdotal correlation does not mean causation. This is where people go entirely wrong when looking at "hot button" issues like fluoride in water or the vaccination of children.

My wife's great grandmother was suffering from very serious dementia when she died and she lived her entire life in a Russian village so we can not say that fluoride was the cause of her dementia.

Determining a scientific correlation between two things in a complex system can be very difficult. One needs to be looking at sample sizes of thousands or tens of thousands. Even when a correlation can be determined, it can be even more difficult to prove causation. Once a correlation is found, the real causation must be determined, which is not always clear.

For instance we might discover an elevated lung cancer rate amongst those who regularly frequent bars. This does not mean that bars cause lung cancer. Instead the real causation is smoking and second hand smoke, which happens to be very prevalent at bars.

Again, public health policy MUST NEVER be based upon what MIGHT be a causation, let alone a correlation. It must be based upon scientifically valid analysis. In the case of fluoride in water, it has been proven based upon decades of decline in cavity rates and countless research studies that fluoridation of water does prevent tooth decay and significantly improve public health.

If public health policy is going to reverse a practice with such a long record of improving health, then there must be irrefutable proof (not suspicion) that fluoridation of water does more harm than it does good and/or that there is not a better way to achieve the same health benefits. We must also look at the real rate of causation (if there is any) and see if it is significant. For instance when permissible exposure limits are determined for carcinogenic chemicals, those limits are commonly based upon the cancer rate per 1,000,000 people.

In a related example, there is evidence that indicates drinking four or more glasses of whole milk a day doubles one's risk of getting cancer, but are we going to advise parents to stop giving their children milk? Of course not. (See our article: Milk causes cancer: is this true, what is the real risk?)

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

To the anonymous poster who left a comment on June 30, 2008 at 19:30 PDT. Your post was not posted because it was condescending, makes hearsay claims without providing web addresses to the scientific sources that support your claims and draws causality relationships that may or may not valid.

In regards to you accusations that we might have a financial stake in companies that produce fluoride I will state quite clearly that no one related to EnvironmentalChemistry.com has any vested interest in said companies. Furthermore, we provided citations for all sources of information used to research this article.

We take great pride in publishing well researched articles that are written by specialists in disciplines related to topics being covered.

We realize that there are a lot of individuals who have strong feelings against fluoride, however, we firmly believe that much of these feelings are based on bogus conspiracy theories which we have no desire to perpetuate. If you expect your comments against fluoride to be be published then provide citations (along with web addresses) to respected scientific sources that support your claims.

Like many other hot button issues (e.g. climate change) one can always find some scientists (with varying levels of competence) who will make outlandish claims that goes against the mainstream. This is part of the scientific process. However, we must turn a very cautious eye to those who try to argue against the vast majority of scientists and it the scientists who are arguing against the mainstream to prove their case.

There is no doubt that in excessive quantities fluoride is harmful to the human body, however, in small quantities it has been proven to be very beneficial and to spread any unfounded/unproven theories against fluoride would be irresponsible.

Consider this censorship if you like, but this is my website.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

In regards to the issue of water flouridation it seems people have brought up serious concerns regarding the topic. So far I haven't I've seen statements claiming that flouridated water is suspected to be dangerous to infants. The only pro argument I see being discussed is correlational data, and in your own words Ken, correlation isn't causation.

Contrary to your viewpoint, I believe that public health policy should ABSOLUTELY be established to first and FOREMOST protect the people and error on the side of caution rather than trying to improve health based on correlational studies.

Though nobody is certain that flouride does in fact benefit or harm humans, the human body has lasted for too many years without flouridated water and I'm sure the public wouldn't notice a bit if we withdrew the practice of flouridating the water supply til we are sure.

Matthew said...

Some interesting discussion here. It is probably best to keep in mind that Fluoride is very accumulative and the body is not incredibly efficient at getting rid of it, because it has never needed to be in the past. So I think what we need to establish is the rate and amount at which the body excretes Fluoride in comparison to the amount ingested, and if the ingestion exceeds the ejection it should probably be considered toxic. Not deadly or extremely harmful, but still, toxic.

I don't think any of this is the important debate at the moment though. This should be considered once water fluoridation is temporarily prevented, AND THEN, IF fluoridation is PROVED to be harmless, I would have no disputes in letting it continue.

At the end of the day, research to support it is not substantial enough.
If you had an aggressive cancer, and a doctor proposed that he knew a procedure, however there was not enough research to certify what it's possible side effects are, you would surely expect consent, right? You wouldn't expect him to knock you out there and then and operate on you, right?
It's the same principle. Very basic human rights. We have a right to choose what chemicals we ingest.

I am all for science, and am well aware of the fact that there are balanced arguments either side, and that there is no definitive empirical proof it is harmful, but it's not the point. The underlying point is I should be able to choose whether I ingest it or not.

So I think, at least for the time being, fluoridation should be globally banned. Thoughts?

Bernard Needham said...

Fluorides of any form are toxic, full stop. The myth that they have been proven 'safe and effective' at preventing tooth decay are propaganda sponsered by the polluting industries. Do you research thoroughly and don't merely repeat the false and misleading statements promoted by the medical, dental and industrial chemistry professions.
I, and many others have been researching the toxicity of fluoride for some years now and I can garrenttee you most of what I have discovered is not taught to doctors and dentists, they no next to nothing about toxicology or nutrition.
To gain some insight into the truth behind why public water supplies are fluoridated I suggest you read "The Fluoride Deception" or any of the other works which attempt to expose this corruption of science for political expediency. Read Kaj Roholm's work on the toxicology of fluorine.
It is not a nutrient at any level it is a toxin. It damages cells and interfers with metabolic processes. The product put into water supplies is not a harmless mineral extracted and purified to a pharmaceutical grade, it is industrial toxic waste so dangerous it cannot be released into the environment but must be neutralised and disposed of in a toxic waste site. Read the MSDS for any of the fluorides. Nobody has the right to enforce medication of any kind let alone lie about it and protect themselves from prosecution by political and legal subterfuge.

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