Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Fluoridated water: too much of a good thing?

In November 2010, my state voted for the first time on a controversial and exciting question: Should marijuana be legalized? Proposition 19, which would have done this, became the focus of a nationwide campaign, with millions of dollars poured into advertising on both sides of the question, and all the world looked on to see how the voters would decide.

Dental health has improved, with or without fluoride

Dental health has improved, with or without fluoride.
[ Image Source ]

In the end, as we know, the measure failed, with 54 percent of votes cast against it in a midterm election whose turnout shattered precedents for such contests. This was despite the proposition’s initial popularity, which had led some to predict its easy passage. How this happened is instructive, for it represents a theme that we have seen time and again in U.S. elections. Just prior to the election, a bipartisan consensus emerged, apparently quite spontaneously, among office-holders and -seekers as well as authoritative (and authoritarian) “experts” of various stripes: All of them spoke of how a misinformed vote for this proposed law would be a disaster for California.

And simultaneously, I was startled to learn that medical-marijuana suppliers not only opposed the measure, but misled their customers — who would have stood to benefit most from its passage — to believe that it would put the suppliers out of business. In short, these “compassionate” providers lied and extorted myriads of Californians to vote against their own interest, solely in order to maintain the profit margins conferred upon them by their product’s illegality.

Meanwhile, with far less fanfare, another ballot measure also fell: my county’s Measure A, which would, if passed, have mandated the removal of fluoride from the county’s water. And again, the same pattern emerged. This time, however, it was exacerbated, for Measure A — which would have affected water used throughout the county — was a city ballot measure: Even though most ratepayers who use the municipal water supply don’t live in the city proper, only city voters got a say on it. And as with Proposition 19, authorities and “experts” waited until the last days of October to start a chorus of denial, chanting in hypnotic unison that fluoride was among the great successes of modern medicine, that it had led to improved dental health wherever it was used, and that anyone who dared question its use was relying on “junk science” and conspiracy theories.

What they did not do — what they never seem to have done — is prove their case. Instead, fluoride proponents appear to rely on cherry-picked data (ignoring statistics that show, as does the chart above, that dental health has improved in places both with and without added fluoride), conflation of natural and artificial forms of water fluoridation, and contemptuous dismissal of “lay” opinion by self-styled experts (who generally know nothing of human physiology beyond their specialties, but are happy to have us believe otherwise).

Now, please understand: I am not now stating that fluoridation is harmful or can do no good. I merely observe that it is not supported by any peer-reviewed, longitudinal, double-blind, large-sample studies not marred by methodological shortcomings; however, since the same can be said of the studies that purport to show significant harm, any conclusion would be premature.

It is, however, interesting to note that the Department of Health and Human Services has now issued a guideline reducing recommended concentrations from 1.0 to 0.7 parts per million thanks to recent increases in dental fluorosis. If nothing else, this is a tacit confession that we are now exposed to unprecedented cumulative ambient fluoride to an extent such that decreasing its use in water has become a matter of official concern.

Without taking a side, I call for one thing: a real, comprehensive study proving fluoride safe or otherwise. Otherwise, the precautionary principle would seem to suggest that we ought not to be compulsorily dosing our populace with a drug whose long-term effects — over a lifetime of daily systemic exposure — we don't fully understand.

Originally published as a review of a CNN report on the recent governmental decision to reduce concentrations of added fluoride in drinking water.

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