Water fluoridation

A brief account of water fluoridation and the suppression, fraud and deceit used in its promotion


The extent of fluoridation

Fluoridation is widespread in North America, Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland. In the UK about 10% of public water supplies are fluoridated. About 97% of Western Europe has non-fluoridated water. Some countries, such as France, rejected fluoridation, while others, including Finland and Germany, tried it but abandoned it. Link

In the Netherlands, when half the public water supplies were fluoridated, some GPs with differing views formed a research group. Using double-blind tests they concluded that fluoridation was linked to various ailments. It was ended in 1973. Link

Some critics of fluoridation, past and present

Dr Albert Burgstahler, Professor Emeritus of Organic Chemistry.
Dr Lennart Krook, Professor Emeritus of Toxicology.
Dr Albert Schatz, co-discoverer of streptomycin.
Dr A K Susheela, Professor of Histocytochemistry.
Dr George L Waldbott, Fellow of the American Society of Allergy, etc.

Nobel Prize-winners (in chemistry or medicine) who have opposed fluoridation or expressed reservations about it: Giulio Natta, Nikolai Semenov, Sir Cyril Norman Hinshelwood, Hugo Theorell, Walter Rudolf Hess, Sir Robert Robinson, James B Sumner, Artturi Virtanen, Adolf Butenandt, Corneille Jean-François Heymans, William P Murphy, Hans von Euler-Chelpin, Arvid Carlsson.

Dr Richard Foulkes, chairman of a committee that had recommended fluoridation in British Columbia: "Anne [Catherine Anderson] challenged me in 1991 to examine my acceptance of fluoridation as a safe and effective public health measure. With Anne's help scouring the resources of three regional university libraries, I was led to a complete reversal of my mindset on fluoridation. My initial belief was based on information given to me by those in authority rather than on the basis of my examination of the facts." PDF Link

Dr Hardy Limeback, Head of Preventive Dentistry, University of Toronto, apologised in 1999 for having promoted fluoridation: "... I had unintentionally mislead my colleagues and my students. For the past 15 years, I had refused to study the toxicology information that is readily available to anyone." Link 1 - Link 2 - Link 3

Two important books about fluoridation

The Case Against Fluoride: How hazardous waste ended up in our drinking water and the bad science and powerful politics that keep it there. By Paul Connett, James Beck and Spedding Micklem (2010). ?The authors examine the evidence on fluoridation and conclude convincingly that it should now be considered ?harmful and ineffective?? ? Prof Hardy Limeback.
For a review by C Vyvyan Howard: PDF Link

The Fluoride Deception. By Christopher Bryson (2004). Based on extensive research including many interviews. 'Bryson, who has had the advantage of access to recently declassified files, concludes that fluoridation is a triumph not of medical science but of US government spin, adding that, "The very same professionals and institutions who told us that fluoride was safe said much the same about lead, asbestos or DDT, or persuaded us to smoke more cigarettes."' Link

A very short history of fluoridation

The first tests of fluoridation in North America started in 1945. They were poor even by the standards of the time. (Philip R.N. Sutton. Fluoridation: Errors and Omissions in Experimental Trials. Melbourne University Press, 1960.) Link
However, the American Dental Association (ADA) and American Medical Association (AMA) endorsed fluoridation even before the tests had been completed.

In the UK, fluoridation started c. 1956. It was not only unethical (arguably), but also unlawful (as eventually confirmed in Scotland where the relevant law was almost the same as in England). In 1983 fluoridation was ruled "ultra vires". Consequently the law was changed. As the government's National Fluoride Information Centre stated: "Water fluoridation in the UK was made legal by the Water (Fluoridation) Act of 1985". ("Water fluoridation: safety & effectiveness", formerly at www.fluorideinformation.com)

When the first British trials started, an assurance was given that both dental and medical assessments would be made. The government's Mission to North America had said that the studies should include "full medical and dental examinations at all ages". However, no medical examinations were made, and neither short-term nor long-term side-effects were explored. (Fluoridation of public water supplies: a critique of "The conduct of the fluoridation studies in the United Kingdom", NPWA, 1963.)

If fluoridation effective and safe?

For decades bodies such as the British Fluoridation Society (BFS), British Medical Association (BMA), British Dental Association (BDA), NHS Confederation, Association for Public Health and their US equivalents have said, despite the absence of good evidence, that research had fully demonstrated fluoridation's effectiveness and safety. For example:
"Adding fluoride to tap water (called fluoridation) helps reduce cavities in children by more than half." Link
"Epidemiological studies and independent reviews of the relevant medical and scientific literature consistently support the safety and efficacy of adding fluoride to water to promote dental health." PDF Link

Most reviews are not impartial. Committees of enquiry are often packed with those known to be favourable. (See especially the chapter on "Self-serving governmental reviews" in the book "The case against fluoride" details of which are above.)

Hence the significance of the major report in 2000 by the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD) at the University of York. The CRD said: "The review found that although a large number of studies had been conducted over the previous 50 years, there was a lack of reliable, good quality evidence in the fluoridation literature world-wide. The available evidence suggests that water fluoridation reduces caries prevalence but the degree to which it does is not clear from the data (results of individual studies ranged from a substantial reduction to a slight increase in prevalence). The available evidence also suggests that this beneficial effect also came at the expense of a likely increase in the prevalence of dental fluorosis (mottled teeth). The research evidence is of insufficient quality to allow confident statements about other potential harms or whether there is any impact on social inequalities." Link 1 and Link 2

The summary in the BMJ stated: "A systematic review of water fluoridation reveals that the quality of the evidence is low Overall, reductions in the incidence of caries were found, but they were smaller than previously reported" Link

However, the fluoride lobby proclaimed that the CRD's report backed its claims. Repudiating such assertions, the CRD stated in 2003: "We are concerned about the continuing misinterpretations of the evidence and think it is important that decision makers are aware of what the review really found." Link

Meanwhile, unhappy with the CRD's conclusions, the DoH asked the Medical Research Council (MRC) for another opinion. The MRC report in 2002 claimed - omitting the CRD's caveats - that, "The York Review confirmed the beneficial effect of water fluoridation on dental caries, ..." However it added, "Another key conclusion of the review was that little high quality research had been undertaken in the area of fluoride and health more broadly.The available research evidence was considered insufficient to allow a confident estimate of the risks that might be associated with non-dental health outcomes ..." Also: "There are very few data relating total fluoride exposure to health effects." Link (then the link to "Water fluoridation and health")

The CRD's systematic review, though wide in some ways, did not include animal studies. Nor did it include more than a hundred studies related to the effects of fluoride on the thyroid gland; when such references were submitted the criteria were narrowed so as to exclude them from consideration. PDF Link

Examples of bias

Like the BDA, BMA and other bodies, the NHS puts out one-sided propaganda. Link

Both national and local government have funded the promotion of fluoridation by organisations which over the years have included the British Fluoridation Society and the Health Education Council. When legislation was successfully proposed to facilitate more fluoridation, those in its favour had far greater resources to lobby MPs than those opposed. The process of endorsement is circular.

Another government-funded body was the National Fluoride Information Centre which claimed to be an "independent information centre" and to provide "objective advice and information". Its first director, Prof Anthony Blinkhorn, was given the "H Trendley Dean Distinguished Scientist Award", "presented to him in Australia under the sponsorship of Colgate-Palmolive". [H Trendley Dean was an early promoter of fluoridation.] Link

MEDLINE indexes many journals but not "Fluoride", the peer-reviewed journal of the International Society for Fluoride Research. This continues the longstanding bias of many mainstream journals - in which new biomedical and environmental fluoride research would have been expected to appear, but which closed their doors to publishing adverse fluoride findings - that led to the founding of "Fluoride". However, the report on Fluoride in drinkingwater: a scientific review of EPA?s standards (2006) by the National Research Council of the US National Academies contains far more citations (57) of research published in Fluoride than in any other journal among its 1077 references. PDF Link

More typically, the effect of the bias is shown in the "Guideline on Fluoride Therapy" by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. This states that, "A thorough review of the scientific literature pertaining to the use of systemic and topical fluoride was completed to revise and update this guideline. A MEDLINE search was conducted ... Use of fluorides for the prevention and control of caries is documented to be both safe and highly effective." PDF Link

Examples of suppression and fraud

Dr William Marcus, Senior Science Advisor in the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Drinking Water, was sacked after objecting to suppression of research by Battelle indicating that fluoride is carcinogenic. Moreover, he learned that scientists at the National Toxicology Program had been coerced to change their findings. Link

Dr Phyllis Mullenix was sacked from the Forsyth Dental Center, where she was head of the toxicology department, for publishing research in Neurotoxicology and Teratology showing that fluoride can adversely affect brain function. She had been warned: "If you publish this information, we won?t get any more grants from NIDR" (from which the institute got most of its money). Link

The connection with the Manhattan Project, referred to by Mullenix, was described in an astonishing article, "Fluoride, Teeth, and the Atomic Bomb", which the Christian Science Monitor commissioned but declined to publish. Link

Dr John Colquhoun, in New Zealand, "had been taught, and believed, that there was really no scientific case against fluoridation, and that only misinformed lay people and a few crackpot professionals were foolish enough to oppose it". He was sent on a world study tour to gather the good news about it. He was appointed chairman of a national Fluoridation Promotion Committee. However, "I wrote to my American colleagues and asked them for the results of the large-scale surveys they had carried out there. I did not receive an answer." Much later he obtained files on the Hastings Fluoridation Experiment and discovered that the published result [quoted in textbooks as showing fluoride's benefits] was fraudulent. Link

David R Hill. Fluoride: risks and benefits? Disinformation in the service of big industry. Updated, August 1997. Link


Updated March 2013