It's DIFFICULT to think of cavity-free teeth without thinking of fluoride. We have long been told that fluoride is good for us. It was added to Toronto's drinking water in the mid-1960s; dental associations endorsed its addition to toothpaste. But what are we to think when Canada's top pro-fluoride authority says he believes we should not be putting it into our bodies?
Dr. Hardy Limeback, biochemist and professor of dentistry at the University of Toronto, told the Sunday Star last week that parents should keep fluoride away from children under three. He added that he doesn't think adding fluoride to water is necessary and may be risky.
Limeback's change of mind is based on numerous studies, published in highly respected journals, showing strong links between fluoridated water and: weakened, brittle teeth and bones (conditions known as dental and skeletal fluorosis); cancer, lowered intelligence and Attention Deficit Disorder, early aging; genetic damage; birth defects; auto-immune disorders; and more.
Limeback is not the first fluoride expert to survey the evidence and recant. In 1980, Dr. John Colquhoun, chief dental officer of Auckland, New Zealand, examined children's dental records to help promote fluoridation. To his surprise, he found fabricated statistics and errors - but no advantage at all from fluoridation. He eventually campaigned against fluoride.
In 1973, Dr. Richard Foulkes, then consultant to the British Columbia health minister, recommended mandatory fluoridation. It never happened, but almost 20 years later, he examined dental records and discovered that the teeth of children from non-fluoridated areas were as healthy as those of children where fluoride was added to water.
Says Foulkes today:
A child's brain is vulnerable to damage from fluoride even before birth and the result can be lowered IQ ... Fluoride in drinking water may react with aluminum, to cause Alzheimer's disease.
Over 1, 100 scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency denounced fluoridation while their employer, the EPA, continued to support it. Former EPA scientist Dr. Robert Caxton, speaking on CBC TVs Marketplace in 1992, called fluoridation
the greatest case of scientific fraud of this century, if not of all time.
Very few countries fluoridate. Several, such as Sweden, Denmark and Holland, have banned fluoride. Vancouver and Montreal never bought into fluoridation. (Limeback's research shows that Torontonians have double the fluoride build-up in their hip bones as Montrealers.)
So why do we hold to the notion that fluoride is not only harmless but good for us?
Most public health officials and dental organizations - including those paid to endorse fluoride products - have never accepted the studies indicting fluoride and appear to be standing firm even in the wake of Limeback's change of position. (He was a chief fluoride adviser to the Canadian Dental Association.) The CDA, the Ontario Dental Association (ODA), the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), and health Canada still support fluoridation.
Why? In some ways, it's not entirely clear.
Without addressing the change in Limeback's position, the ODA told dentists in a release last week that "no assertion against the benefits and safety of fluoridation has ever been substantiated by scientific consensus." This may be true, but critics point out that almost no scientific issue is settled unanimously but rather based on a preponderance of evidence.
An ODA spokeswoman said this week that "the facts are clear Communal water fluoridation is safe and extremely beneficial."
But when asked to cite research that supports this, the spokeswoman said "you'll have to call health Canada ... we get all our information from them."
Health Canada said "I seriously doubt all this information came from us." The ODA did say, however, that it does no fluoridation research of its own (nor do health Canada and the CDA). The ODA doesn't even review research conducted by others.
When fluoride was being considered as an additive, a number of studies were conducted that seemed to suggest some benefits. But since then, the data has been re-examined a number of times and been found wanting.
Prominent fluoride detractor and biochemist Dr. John Yiamouyiannis is blunt:
Early (scientific) results were premature and completely misinterpreted.
Yiamouyiannis believes that
zealous experts weren't interested in the numerous studies linking fluoride with serious health risks once they had made up their minds.
Today, health and dental officials always qualify fluoride's safety with the phrase "at optimum levels," "The trouble is, the only safe or optimum amount of fluoride is none at all," says Yiamouyiannis. "While no one is going to die from drinking one glass of Toronto tap water, just as no one will die from smoking one cigarette, it is the longer-term chronic effects of fluoride ... glass after glass ... that takes its toll on human health."
Limeback, who still thinks fluoride is beneficial in toothpaste, agrees, and points out that we also get fluoride from almost everything we drink and much of what we eat.
If you are concerned about fluoride intake, one way to cut down is to buy distilled water for drinking and cooking, or buy a proper distillation unit, reverse osmosis system or a de-ionizer. Conventional filters don't remove it.