By Paul Connett, PhD, Director of the Fluoride Action Network
Only a handful of countries – largely English speaking (Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK, and the USA) — continue the outdated and discredited practice of water fluoridation, but in each of these citadels, more and more communities are finding out the truth.
Since 2010, over 165 communities worldwide have either ended fluoridation or rejected new proposals (e.g. Portland, Oregon). In 2012, Queensland lifted mandatory fluoridation. In August 2014, Israel banned fluoridation completely.
In Sept 2014, a major law firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of Peel (Ontario) citizens claiming that fluoridation is illegal under a Supreme Court ruling from the 1950s, and on Oct 7, 2014 Dublin City Council joined many other Irish councils calling on the Irish government to end mandatory fluoridation.
This has been followed by similar votes from Cork and Kerry. The response of rabid promoters to these events is highly revealing.
They continue to wheel out “prestigious authorities” to endorse the practice, even while it is becoming more and more obvious – and more and more embarrassing - that these “authorities” have no science to back their exaggerated claims of benefits or their denials of potential dangers.
Indeed, these endorsements are sounding more and more like the empty phrases of the “Hollow Men” struggling in a “dry cellar” in T.S. Elliot’s famous poem of the same name.
The American ‘Hollow Men’
So who are these hollow men and why are they wrong and horribly misleading? Here are some examples from the US, NZ, and Ireland. There are many others.
In the US, Dr. Jeffrey S. Flier, Dean of Harvard Medical School and Dr. Bruce Donoff, Dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.
On March 22, 2014, these Harvard deans, wrote the following letter to avid fluoridation propagandist Dr. Myron Allukian (Massachusetts), which has since been given wide distribution by fluoridation promoters.
Allukian almost certainly sought this letter in order to quell concerns generated by two important Harvard studies: a) the osteosarcoma study by Bassin et al., 2006 and b) the meta-analysis of 27 IQ studies by Choi et al., 2012.
"Dear Dr. Allukian:
As Deans of Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, we continue to support community water fluoridation as an effective and safe public health measure for people of all ages.
Numerous reputable studies over the years have consistently demonstrated that community water fluoridation is safe, effective, and practical. Fluoridation has made an enormous impact on improving the oral health of the American people.
Our country is fortunate to have over 204 million Americans living in fluoridated communities and having access to the health and economic benefits of this vital public health measure."
Response: Like anyone else, these Deans are entitled to their opinion but neither has published any study related in any way to the work of Bassin et al. (2006) or Choi et al. (2012), nor for that matter on any health issue relating to fluoridation.
So here, we see a fairly naked attempt by Allukian to trump serious scientific studies simply using opinions and endorsements rather than valid scientific evidence.
The ‘Hollow Men’ of New Zealand
In NZ, Sir Peter Gluckman, chief scientific advisor to the Prime Minster of New Zealand and Sir David Skegg (President of the Royal Society of New Zealand).
In August 2014, in response to a number of local communities voting out water fluoridation in NZ, Gluckman and Skegg published a review titled the “Health Effects of Water Fluoridation: a Review of the Scientific Evidence.” A press report can be viewed on FluorideAlert.org’s website.1
As far as the science is concerned, this review is inaccurate, selective, and superficial. However, because of the prestige of the authors and the positions they hold, this is likely to be very influential with the NZ media, which are equally inaccurate, selective, and superficial on this issue.
Here is one section of the report, which clearly demonstrates the authors’ apparent willingness to pass on the analysis of fluoridation propagandists rather than to read the cited studies themselves. In a section titled “Effects on IQ,” Gluckman and Skegg write:
“Recently there have been a number of reports from China and other areas where fluoride levels in groundwater are naturally very high, that have claimed an association between high water fluoride levels and minimally reduced intelligence (measured as IQ) in children.
In addition to the fact that the fluoride exposures in these studies were many (up to 20) times higher than any that are experienced in New Zealand or other CWF communities, the studies also mostly failed to consider other factors that might influence IQ, including exposures to arsenic, iodine deficiency, socioeconomic status, or the nutritional status of the children.
Further, the claimed shift of less than one IQ point suggests that this is likely to be a measurement or statistical artifact of no functional significance.
A recently published study in New Zealand… revealed no evidence that exposure to water fluoridation in New Zealand affects neurological development or IQ.
We conclude that on the available evidence there is no appreciable effect on cognition arising from CWF.” (Emphasis mine)
Response: It should be incredibly embarrassing for both the NZ Prime Minister and the Royal Society of New Zealand to have their names associated with such an inaccurate and biased summary of the literature on fluoride’s impact on children’s intellectual development.
Mistaken and Misleading Claims
- Gluckman and Skegg mistakenly claim “a shift of less than one IQ point” in the 27 studies reviewed by Choi et al. (2012). What they have done here is to confuse the drop of half of one standard deviation reported by the authors with the actual drop in IQ, which was 6.9 points. Such an elementary mistake would not have been made by Gluckman and Skegg if they had actually read the report, instead of relying on what fluoridation propagandists were saying about it.
- Gluckman and Skegg’s claim that “fluoride exposures in these studies were many (up to 20) times higher than any that are experienced in New Zealand or other CWF communities” again indicates that they didn’t read the report (or read it carefully). Only two out of the 27 studies had the “high-fluoride” village concentrations going up to 11 and 11.5 ppm respectively (Yao, 1996, 2-11 ppm, and Wang, 2007, 3.6-11.5 ppm). More relevant to NZ (and other countries with water fluoridation programs in the range of 0.6 to 1.2 ppm) is the fact that 8 of the reviewed studies had concentrations in the “high-fluoride” village of less than 3 ppm.
- Moreover, when harm is found, toxicologists do not normally focus on the highest level but on the Lowest Observable Adverse Effect Level (LOAEL). In one of the studies (Xiang et al., 2003 a,b) the authors sub-divided the children in the “high-fluoride” village into 5 groups with increasing fluoride concentrations in their well water from 0.75 to 4.3 ppm. They found that as the fluoride concentration increased, the mean IQ was lowered in a linear fashion. The lowest level at which IQ lowering occurred was 1.26 ppm. This offers no adequate margin of safety to protect all children drinking artificially fluoridated water between 0.6 and 1.2 ppm.
- This lack of an adequate margin of safety gets worse when one notes that in two respects, NZ children are likely to get higher fluoride doses than the rural Chinese children in this study, because a) they are more likely to use fluoridated toothpaste and b) more likely to be bottle-fed, with levels of fluoride about 200 times more than breast milk (0.004 ppm).
- Gluckman and Skegg claim that of the 27 studies, most “failed to consider other factors that might influence IQ, including exposures to arsenic, iodine deficiency, socioeconomic status, or the nutritional status of the children.” However, the fact that some of the studies did not control for all of these factors does not obviate the need to examine the studies that did. For example, Xiang et al. controlled for lead, iodine, and more recently arsenic.
- Gluckman and Skegg’s use of a single recent IQ study from NZ to rebut these 27 IQ studies (Broadbent et al., 2014) further reveals their bias. The Broadbent study is incredibly weak because the authors were unable to identify any children who had neither been exposed to fluoridated water nor fluoridated supplements. In other words, they had no control group
- It is the weight of evidence on fluoride’s neurotoxicity that should make responsible scientists and health officials more cautious than Gluckman and Skegg. While none of these individual IQ studies is absolutely conclusive (although Xiang’s study comes very close), the overall consistency of the 27 IQ studies is remarkable, considering they were done by different research teams in different countries (China and Iran), and over a very wide geographical area in China.
The results are also consistent with many other animal and human studies indicating the fluoride is neurotoxic. For example, out of 32 studies, 30 have shown that animals perform less well in learning and memory experiments when exposed to fluoride.2 A more comprehensive critique of the NZ “whitewash review” has been written by Dr. Kathleen Thiessen, one of the panelists for the NRC (2006) landmark review of fluoride’s toxicity.
The ‘Hollow Men’ of Ireland
In Ireland, Prof June Nunn, Dean, School of Dental Science, Trinity College Dublin; Prof Martin Kinirons, Dean, School of Dental Science, Cork University Dental School and Hospital; Dr. John Walsh, Dean, Faculty of Dentistry, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland; and Dr. Peter Gannon, President, Irish Dental Association. In a letter to the Irish Times (Oct 6, 2014), probably anticipating the vote by Dublin City Council calling on the Irish government to end fluoridation (Oct 7, 2014), these dentists wrote:
"Sir, – Ireland has a considerable history of water fluoridation. It is 50 years since fluoridation of the water supplies began in this country. Time for the considerable advantages in terms of improvements in oral health to be demonstrated and, in parallel, time during which there has been no documented medical side-effects of water fluoridation.
In the time since water fluoridation was introduced here in Ireland, the population has benefited from improved oral health services, greater access to fluoridated toothpastes and better nutrition. As a consequence, a decision was made, after scientific review, to reduce the level of fluorides in the water supply as in other countries. This is in recognition of these other sources of fluoride and to minimise the side-effect (flecking of teeth) seen when small children eat fluoridated toothpaste while living in fluoride areas.
The benefits of fluoridation are not inconsiderable in terms of all costs. While the population, both adults and children, have benefited from the consequent improvements in oral health that fluoride confers, the benefit to the health service in terms of a reduction in costs of the burden of dental disease and its management, not to say the considerable benefits to families in quality of life as a result of days free of dental pain and no loss of days at work or school in dealing with dental abscesses, are considerable.
Dental disease is one of the commonest, preventable diseases yet the country invests significant amounts of money in dealing with the consequences of that disease. Fluoridation has been proven to have significantly benefited the population thus allowing scarce health service resources to be directed towards acute life-threatening conditions.
No other health-promoting measure has been exposed to such scrutiny and been given an ongoing, clean bill of health. As a measure, water fluoridation has been recognised by the US Cancer Society, as well as the Royal College of Physicians, both here in Ireland and the UK, as being both safe and effective as well as without side effects over decades of vigilance.
We note that the most recently published expert peer-reviewed analysis by the Royal Society of New Zealand finds ‘there are no adverse effects of any significance arising from fluoridation at the levels used in New Zealand’ (ie levels higher than in Ireland). ‘In particular, no effects on brain development, cancer risk or metabolic risk have been substantiated.’ The American Dental Association ‘unreservedly endorses the fluoridation of community water supplies as safe, effective and necessary in preventing tooth decay.’
As parents as well as oral healthcare professionals, we acknowledge these endorsements and continue to advocate one of the few truly cost-effective public health measures this country has known, for the good of all, children and adults.”
- These authors very deceptively claim that in 50 years since fluoridation began in Ireland, “there has been no documented medical side-effects of water fluoridation,” without pointing out that in these 50 years there have been no health studies conducted in Ireland! The absence of study is not the same as the absence of harm.
- They compound this false impression when they say that “No other health-promoting measure has been exposed to such scrutiny” and again when they claim that the measure is without side effects “over decades of vigilance.”
- Their claims about Gluckman and Skegg’s NZ review (discussed above) and the ADA endorsement in the following excerpt is both self-serving and somewhat incestuous since it is one group of fluoridation promoters citing the “opinion” of other fluoridation promoters:
"We note that the most recently published expert peer-reviewed analysis by the Royal Society of New Zealand finds ‘there are no adverse effects of any significance arising from fluoridation at the levels used in New Zealand’ (ie levels higher than in Ireland). ‘In particular, no effects on brain development, cancer risk or metabolic risk have been substantiated.’ The American Dental Association ‘unreservedly endorses the fluoridation of community water supplies as safe, effective and necessary in preventing tooth decay.’”
Many members of the public and the media will probably have to wait until a lawsuit before these “Hollow Men” are exposed. When they have to testify on what they actually know – based on the primary scientific literature –rather on what they believe, it should become clear to all and sundry that their authority on this matter is very hollow indeed.