Fluoride: Friend or Foe?

***UPDATED: January 14, 2014*** Fluoride has been the primary weapon in preventative dentistry’s battle against tooth decay for nearly five decades.  While industry experts have long reported that the mineral helps reduce the risk of dental caries through the hardening of dental enamel, in recent years other health activists have argued that it does more harm than good.  With fluoride in the hot-seat, researchers have set out to discover just how it can assist in oral health, and a new study has done just that.  The latest report details how evidence has been found showing fluoride to decrease the adhesion of bacteria to the teeth, therefore reducing the acid that causes cavities.   The use of fluoride actually makes it easier for teeth to be washed of bacteria by saliva and brushing, further fueling the argument for more fluoridated public waters.

***UPDATE*** 9/13/2012 The city of Portland has unanimously decided to add fluoride to the drinking water, despite significant opposition from the community.  The push for fluoridation comes from the fact that commissioners claim that children in Oregon have worse dental issues than their counterparts in neighboring states, all of whom happen to supplement their drinking water with the mineral.  Opponents are disappointed that city council members made a decision before allowing the public to vote on the matter.  Similar struggles have recently been reported in Phoenix, Arizona, Wichita, Kansas, and other areas of the U.S.  While dental experts believe that fluoride helps fight tooth decay, opponents believe that the consequences far outweigh the benefits, citing a recent study out of Harvard claiming that kids with exposure to high levels of fluoride have lower IQs than those without.  Commissioners in Portland believe that the science behind the mineral is proof enough that fluoride can help the thousands of children suffering from premature tooth decay.  The ordinance calls for city water to be fluoridated by March 2014.

Over the course of my continuous search for interesting news in the dentistry world, I’ve run across several stories regarding the benefits and drawbacks of fluoride, especially in the treatment of drinking water.  The latest story is out of Portland, Oregon, where several residents are fighting to keep the supposed cavity-fighting mineral out of their water supply.  The debate is getting pretty heated so I dug a little deeper.  That’s when I came across the Fox News article, “Does fluoride in drinking water hurt your brain?” by Dr. Keith Ablow.  I hadn’t heard the argument about fluoride doing damage to the brain before, and found it interesting enough to share.  What do you think?

In the 1940s, it was discovered that individuals who resided close to water supplies that had naturally occurring fluoride suffered from fewer cavities than those who didn’t.  Once the word was out, governments and industry began to strongly encourage communities to add fluoride to their treated water supply, in hopes of improving overall oral health nationwide.  Then, in 2011, the EPA lowered the recommended maximum amount of fluoride added to drinking water as data emerged showing too much fluoride put kids at risk of dental fluorosis, the streaking and pitting of teeth.  The latest research is now suggesting that children living in areas with high levels of fluoridated water have “significantly lower” IQ scores than those who don’t.  The Harvard study also suggests that levels of fluoride which are safe for adults may be a developmental neurotoxicant, in children, affecting brain development.    Further research has linked fluoride to the brain structure of fetuses, negatively impacting the behavioral/neurological assessment scores of newborns.  Dr. Ablow, a psychiatrist, feels this information is very important from a psychiatric standpoint, considering the rise in rates of attention deficit disorder, dementia, depression, and other psychiatric illnesses since the 40’s.  The United States also has some of the highest rates of mental disorders in the world, and some believe it’s not a coincidence that we fluoridate our water much more than most of the world.

Of course, Dr. Ablow’s article notes that it is not clear that fluoride is solely responsible for these conclusions, or whether it even plays any part at all in the statistics quoted.  He simply notes that it’s interesting.  I think so too actually.  I also find it interesting that fluoride has been proven to prevent, and even reverse the effects of tooth decay.  Also, the addition of fluoride to drinking water has been said to be the most cost effective way of delivering the benefits to all individuals, regardless of income.  It’s true that we are seeing more kids diagnosed with some form of psychiatric condition in recent years and most people, especially parents, are looking for an explanation; something to point and shake their finger at.  I’ve read about the harmful effects of preservatives added to our foods, the genetic modifications being made to our produce, even red dye 40, which is found in most prepackaged foods.  And now we can add fluoride to the list.  Who’s to say it isn’t the combination of all of them that is driving up the number of mental disorders in our nation? But who’s to say it has to do with any of them either? It’s an interesting debate that will surely continue for many more years to come.

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