Fluoride and Misinformation
Fluoride is something used in the dental profession that has significantly lowered the incidence of caries. Dental caries was not typically a large problem for mankind until sugar and/or refined sugar was made readily available to consumers during the industrial revolution. Fluoride has lowered the incidence of dental caries not only through toothpaste but also through the use of water fluoridation. Tooth decay is the result of the hydroxyl group being removed from the calcium hydroxyapatite that makes up roughly 90% of tooth enamel through acid attack either produced by bacteria as a waste product or else from the diet as most foods and beverages are at least slightly acidic. Fluoride’s method of action is to replace this hydroxyl group forming calcium fluorapatite, which is far more resistant to acid attack. Calcium hydroxyapatite begins decaying at a pH around 5.5 whereas the fluorapatite version decays around a pH of 4.5. Of course, like there is with all great scientific advancements, there will always be a group of scientifically/medically ignorant people that believe they know more than they actually do and will go around spreading medical misinformation. Conspiracy theories and theorists are nothing new to science; they have been around for thousands of years. Everything from sea monsters in ancient times to more recent ones such as the Small Pox vaccine causing you to turn into a cow; fluoride is no exception. This short essay will quickly address a few of these misconceptions about the use of fluoride.
Perhaps the most common claim that conspiracy theorists make is that fluoride is toxic. While this is true, everything is toxic in the right amounts. Water fluoridation in regulated areas is regulated to an optimum level of 1 mg/L. Fluoride begins to become toxic at a level of 1 gram (500 mg for children); this means that in an adult, toxic levels would be reached after drinking 1,000 liters of tap water (264 gallons). For comparison, a large 5-person hot tub is about 300 gallons. Another way to compare this is to look at how much pure water it would take to kill a person. We don’t have a very good LD50 for water as water poisoning has only killed a handful of people throughout history; however, if a person were to drink a gallon of water every hour, that person would likely die somewhere after hour two (somewhere between two and three gallons of water). Over the counter fluoridated toothpaste is a bit higher concentrations which are around 30 mg/oz. This means that for a healthy adult to reach toxic levels of fluoride, that person would need to ingest roughly 33 ounces of toothpaste, which is just over a quart of toothpaste… good luck accomplishing either of these feats. The most common feature of fluoride toxicity is fluorosis, specifically dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis includes staining (white to brown) and pitting/mottling of the teeth and is most common in those whose teeth have not fully grown, mainly children under the age of eight, as their permanent teeth have not yet fully formed. Dental fluorosis is caused by long-term exposure rather than acute toxicity.
Another commonly used conspiracy theory is that fluoride is toxic waste produced by nuclear power plants. Conspiracy theorists believe that the government will not allow them to dump the nuclear waste without taking great expense to dispose of it properly; however, they believe that the very same government allows them to sell this toxic waste to the water authorities which are typically government run. This theory has so many holes it’s comical. When the argument is made that this makes no sense to ban it’s dumping into the water but then allow the selling of it… to put in the water. Most common response is that the government makes no sense.
Some people claim that fluoride is the government (or “they”) using it as a form of mind control to get the public to conform to societies rules, make people more subservient, and get people to become better consumers. These people typically make the claim that Hitler and the Nazi’s used fluoride to control the Jews and usually believe in chemtrails as well (mind control chemicals sprayed from commercial airlines). These claims simply aren’t true and there are no legitimate sources to confirm this. If Hitler and the Nazis used fluoride, it cannot be found anywhere that is reputable. Hitler also tried to find the Ark of the Covenant, the Spear of Destiny, and the Holy Grail.
Harvard recently did a meta-study on fluoride that conspiracy theorists like Joe Mercola MD (who made over $7 million on his website according to BusinessWeek in 2009 selling alternative quack remedies) love to write about. The study concentrated on those studies that were done in areas of the world with naturally high ground water levels of fluoride such as China and many of the sources were around 10 mg/L but were sometimes over 100 mg/L. The group concluded that children exposed to high levels of fluoride at a young age had statistically significant lower IQ (on the order of -0.5). There is no merit to this study at all.
Finally, some claim that the pineal gland is calcified by fluoride ingestion over long periods of time. This is based on a single study that was published in a peer-reviewed journal in 2001. The study was not meant to study whether the pineal gland was calcified by fluoride but rather whether there was fluoride in the pineal gland. The study looked at 11 cadavers whose average age of death were 82. The study found that the pineal glands of these 11 cadavers were calcified and contained fluoride that was somewhat proportional to the amount of calcification. The study concluded that the calcification in the pineal gland was attributed to normal aging and that the amount of fluoride in the pineal gland was not linked to long-term fluoride exposure.
Medical misinformation and science denial leads to the harm and death of tens of thousands (maybe even millions) of people every year and seems to be growing larger as the Internet expands. It is the responsibility of medical professionals and those that are qualified and trained to provide accurate information to the public and to debunk and expose those that mean to make a profit off of medical misinformation. Fluoride saves money both for the individual with dental bills and the public through taxes (every $1 spent on water fluoridation saves $38 of taxpayer money) and fluoride saves hundreds of millions from dental caries and tooth decay. Not only is there a financial savings through the implementation of fluoride (water, toothpaste, etc.), there is also a benefit to the overwhelmed medical community. There is already a shortage of dentists nationwide and to create more disease would be detrimental to society and the individual.
cdc.gov (https://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/safety/dental_fluorosis.htm), accessed 10/21/14.
Choi AL, Sun G, Zhang Y, Grandjean P. Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives; vol. 120(10): 1362-1368, 2012.
Fluoridation Facts, ada.org (specifically http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Member%20Center/FIles/fluoridation_facts.ashx), accessed 10/11/14.
Luke J. Fluoride deposition in the aged human pineal gland. Caries Res 2001;35:125-28.
who.int (specifically http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/diseases/fluorosis/en/), accessed 10/21/14.
Various courses throughout dental school