Opinion: Fluoridation debate fueled by junk science

February 11, 2013


We may have an emerging example of junk science driving public policy. I read that the Lawrence City Commission has (at the urging of outgoing commissioner Hugh Carter) directed City Auditor Michael Eglinski to prepare a report summarizing the latest scientific research on whether adding fluoride to drinking water is beneficial.

Why? Well, apparently two people Carter knows “argued fluoridation has a long list of potential side effects, including staining of the teeth, reduced intelligence, cancer and thyroid disease.” This sounds terrible. It probably contaminates our precious bodily fluids as well. Is any information available? Will an auditor (not a scientist) be reviewing the research and reporting on it? Would we ask our auto mechanic how to raise carrots?

So, already we see some typical junk science — news media effects. We see a story which makes people think that there is a controversy, so there is one. The story contains no representation of the issues as seen by science — but even if it did, it would give a kind of false “fair and balanced” atmosphere to the story — as if it contained the arguments for a round Earth versus a flat Earth in a fair and balanced manner.

Fifteen seconds with a search engine turns up the results from the National Research Council. These experts serve without pay to advise the federal government and the general public on scientific and technological issues that affect people’s lives. The NRC has looked at fluoridation of drinking water many times since 1951, with the most recent review of research in 2006. Essentially, there is no evidence for any negative effects at the level of fluoride ADDED to drinking water (0.7 to 1.2 mg/L) in most towns, even in combination with that in toothpaste, etc.

There ARE negative effects from larger amounts of fluoride, which often occur naturally, coming in from soil or bedrock. The NRC reports and those of the EPA contain warnings about these. Anti-fluoridation activists will typically quote these (the most common being tooth stains) without explaining that these are in reports about natural fluoride in water, which can be much, much greater. The NRC is clear, after a great deal of work by a dozen leading scientists looking at the work of thousands of others, that the small amounts added by municipalities are beneficial to teeth. According to the Lawrence city report for 2011, the fluoride levels in our water ranged from 0.2 to 0.97.

Fluoridation is endorsed by academies of dentists, pediatricians and others. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control lists water fluoridation as one of the “ten greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.” All the information of the consensus of science is available out there. So why are we spending public time and money on it? Why did we have a public debate about teaching children standard science, such as evolution? Why do we have a problem with trying to curb carbon emissions, which might help prevent Kansas from becoming a desert? Why do purposefully misinformed anti-vaccine activists get so much airtime? How many children die because their parents are afraid to get them vaccinated?

In order to clear these things up, we as a society need to fund research and then pay attention to the results. Science has been characterized as a way to keep you from fooling yourself, and that’s not a bad definition.

Adrian Melott is a professor of physics and astronomy at Kansas University, and a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


Nys Cof 1 year, 9 months ago

The NRC did NOT give fluoride a clean bill of health. Instead they revealed that fluoride can harm the thyroid and babies at levels added to public water supplies as well as those who drinks lots of water such as outdoor workers, diabetics, military, etc.

Further, " gaps in the information on fluoride prevented the committee from making some judgments about the safety or the risks of fluoride at concentrations between 2 and 4 mg/L and below. The report makes several recommendations for future research to fill those gaps, as well as recommendations to pursue lines of evidence on other potential health risk (e.g., endocrine effects and brain function). Recommendations include exposure assessment at the individual level rather than the community level; population studies of moderate and severe enamel fluorosis in relation to tooth decay and to psychological, behavioral, or social effects; studies designed to clarify the relationship between fluoride ingestion, fluoride concentration in bone, and clinical symptoms of skeletal fluorosis; and more studies of bone fracture rates in people exposed to high concentrations of fluoride in drinking water."

Toxicologist John Doull of Kansas University, who chaired the committee, told a Scientific American writer that the thyroid effects worry him. in another interview, he said that the link to osteosarcoma needs to further be studied . So we are all unpaid guinea pigs in this ongoing experiment called fluoridation.

melott 1 year, 9 months ago

Cherry picking once again.

"... in people exposed to high concentrations of fluoride in drinking water."

Nys Cof 1 year, 9 months ago

First of all artificial fluoridation is based on the assumption that naturally fluoridated water is safe safe for all which it is not

There is clear evidence that small amounts of fluoride, at or near levels added to U.S. water supplies, present potential risks to the thyroid gland, according to the National Research Council's (NRC) first-ever published review of the fluoride/thyroid literature.

Fluoride, in the form of silicofluorides, injected into 2/3 of U.S. public water supplies, ostensibly to reduce tooth decay, was never safety-tested.

"Many Americans are exposed to fluoride in the ranges associated with thyroid effects, especially for people with iodine deficiency," says Kathleen Thiessen, PhD, co-author of the government-sponsored NRC report. "The recent decline in iodine intake in the U.S could contribute to increased toxicity of fluoride for some individuals," says Thiessen.

Common thyroid symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, constipation, fuzzy thinking, low blood pressure, fluid retention, depression, body pain, slow reflexes, and more. It's estimated that 59 million Americans have thyroid conditions.

Robert Carton, PhD, an environmental scientist who worked for over 30 years for the U.S. government including managing risk assessments on high priority toxic chemicals, says "fluoride has detrimental effects on the thyroid gland of healthy males at 3.5 mg a day. With iodine deficiency, the effect level drops to 0.7 milligrams/day for an average male.") (1.0 mg/L fluoride is in most water supplies)

Among many others, the NRC Report cites human studies which show

  • fluoride concentrations in thyroids exceeding that found in other soft tissues except kidney

  • an association between endemic goiter and fluoride exposure or enamel fluorosis in human populations

  • fluoride adversely affects thyroid and parathyroid hormones, which affect bone health

"If you have a thyroid problem, avoiding fluoride may be a good preventive health measure for you," writes Drs' Richard and Karilee Shames in "Thyroid Power."

Scientific American quotes John Doull, professor emeritus of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, who chaired the NRC committee , "The thyroid changes do worry me."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

As long as you want to make these solely about science, the fact is that there is actually no broad consensus that systemic fluoride treatments for kids (the only ones who benefit from them) is best achieved by putting fluoride in the water supply that everyone must consume, including the vast majority of the population who get zero benefit from it, and some small percentage of whom may, indeed, be harmed by it.

chootspa 1 year, 9 months ago

Actually, there is broad scientific support of water fluoridation for all ages. It can also aid in recalcification of caries in adult teeth, so it's not just good for children.

stand4reason 1 year, 9 months ago

Thank you, Dr. Melott, for your wonderful letter. You have aptly identified a number of important issues. Thank you for calling out the "false equivalency" effect of media coverage on these topics and the deleterious results that this, and the misinformation that follows, can have on our communities.

Community water fluoridation as practiced in the US is safe, effective and benefits people of ALL ages. The science is solid. The experts and the evidence have spoken.

chootspa 1 year, 9 months ago

Gave it elsewhere, but the Institute for Science in Medicine backs that statement.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

Actually, there is scant evidence that fluoride in drinking water benefits adults, and what benefit adults do get from fluoride is best achieved through topical treatments (such as toothpaste.) Furthermore, there's a good deal of evidence that there are equally good ways to get fluoride treatments to kids without doing it through the water supply.

Now, if you want to argue that the best way to ensure that kids get the benefits is by dosing the entire population, even though most of them will get zero benefit, go for it. But don't muddy the waters (so to speak) by asserting benefits for which there is very little evidence.

chootspa 1 year, 9 months ago

Fluoride toothpaste or treatments may or may not be more effective in the lab, but we're not talking about laboratory conditions. We're talking about a population of some people who brush their teeth and some who do not. As a public health policy, it makes more sense to fluoridate the water, especially since those who are least likely to brush are most likely to later need dental care that they cannot afford.

I've already provided you with links citing that fluoride helps protect adult teeth as well as those of children by aiding remineralization. Do you have peer-reviewed studies showing it does not help adult teeth?

Division of Oral Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Cost savings of community water fluoridation.” CDC Fact Sheet, 2009 Sep 1

Lambrou D, Larsen MJ, Fejerskov O & Tachos G, “The effect of fluoride in saliva on remineralization of dental enamel in humans,” Caries Research, 1981; 15(5):341-345.

Jones S, Burt BA, Petersen PE & Lennon MA. “The effective use of fluorides in public health,” Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 2005 Sep; 83(9):670-676.

American Dental Association (2005), op. cit., supra.

gl0ck0wn3r 1 year, 9 months ago

"including the vast majority of the population who get zero benefit from it, and some small percentage of whom may, indeed, be harmed by it."

Source please.

gr 1 year, 9 months ago

Source? Why, it's just accepted! Just believe and tap your toes.

gr 1 year, 9 months ago

"Will an auditor (not a scientist) be reviewing the research and reporting on it? Would we ask our auto mechanic how to raise carrots?"

Melott raises a very excellent point! Why is the city water department telling people how to care for their teeth? Why is the water department doing dental treatments? When does a professor of physics and astronomy know what's best for "everyone's" dental health? A very good question indeed!

"Essentially, there is no evidence for any negative effects at the level of fluoride ADDED to drinking water (0.7 to 1.2 mg/L) in most towns, even in combination with that in toothpaste, etc."

Speaking of junk science, if something causes no negative effects, should it be dumped into the water supply? Just because something isn't found to cause harm doesn't mean it is good. Do you know how science is done? I hope you do.

"So why are we spending public time and money on it? "

Wow, another very excellent question! Why are we spending public time and money to doctor everyone, everyone's cat, everyone's dog, everyone's lawn, everyone's car? Good question you raised!

"In order to clear these things up, we as a society need to fund research and then pay attention to the results."

Ok, fair enough. Let's see some. Let's see research showing it's beneficial, that the proper way to deliver the medicine is in the public water supply, that everyone gets the proper dosage, that the city should be the ones carrying out dental procedures. Yes, let's see the research.

In the mean time, you (but you probably won't bother) could do a simple internet search and see things such as:

(Or maybe you won't be able to remember to look. Maybe something wrong with the brain functions?)

gr 1 year, 9 months ago

Can the action of the city medicating and treating their "patients" interfere with the patient's health?

"What should I discuss with my healthcare provider before using Phosphate Fluoride (fluoride topical)? Fluoride topical should not be used if the level of fluoride topical in the drinking water is greater than 0.7 parts per million (ppm). "

"Do not allow a child to swallow fluoride topical or serious overdose symptoms could result. Read more at

Material Safety Data Sheet Varnish, 5% Sodium Fluoride with ACP Main hazards: Harmful if swallowed. Contact with acids liberates very toxic gas. Irritating to eyes and skin. Maybe cause sensitization by skin contact.

Sodium Fluoride ORL MUS LD50 57mg/kg ORL RAT LD50 52mg/kg SCU RAT LD50 175mg/kg


Health Rating: 3 - Severe (Poison)

Burning may produce hydrogen fluoride vapors. (What about firefighters using the city medicated water?)

"It turns out that so-called “fluoride” is really fluorosilicic acid, a toxic waste byproduct of the phosphate mining industry. If it wasn’t being dumped into the water supplies of major cities, it would have to be disposed as a hazardous toxic waste chemical under EPA rules.

When the phosphate mining industry used to release fluoride byproducts directly into the atmosphere (from the fumes of the acidic slurry used to process phosphate rock), it caused the widespread death of cattle and crops. In order to protect local livestock from fluoride poisoning, wet scrubbers were installed at the phosphate mining processing sites in order to collect the toxic fluoride and prevent it from being released into the atmosphere.Fluorosilicic acid is derived from these wet scrubbers, then sold to cities and towns to have it dumped into the water supply."

"Mosaic, a fluoride manufacturer, recently printed a warning on their Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that provides evidence that fluoride is harmful. Mosaic’s Material Safety Data Sheet may be used as evidence to give to any City Council across the country.

If you warn your City Council members of the danger of fluoride, they become liable because they now have knowledge of the issue. The activists suggest that you can meet with them or present the information at a City Council meeting. They advocate demanding that a warning be added to customers’ water utility bills about fluoride’s damaging effects. "

gr 1 year, 9 months ago

From a hydrofluorosilicic acid MSDS sheet:

Ingestion........................................ Do not induce vomiting. Give large amounts of water. Do not give anything by mouth to an unconscious or convulsing person. Seek immediate medical attention.

For some reason, I find it humorous! Give large amounts of water!

Chronic/Acute Effects................... Liquid or vapours can cause burns which may not be apparant for hours. Prolonged exposure can result in: bone changes; corrosive effect on mucous membranes; ulceration of nose, throat, and bronchial tubes; cough, shock, pulmonary edema, fluorosis, coma, and death.

"Southern California Metropolitan Water District (MWD) is being sued for adding fluoride to water because there has been no testing for the safety of this unapproved drug, without the consent of water users. "

MarcoPogo 1 year, 9 months ago

This is all just a ploy to draw attention from the revelations that Hugh Carter is one of the 12-foot tall shape-shifting lizard people.

stand4reason 1 year, 9 months ago

Newbrun E. Systemic benefits of fluoride and fluoridation. J Public Health Dent 2004;64(Spec Iss):35-9.

melott 1 year, 9 months ago

General Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk... ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children's ice cream. Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: [very nervous] Lord, Jack. General Jack D. Ripper: You know when fluoridation first began? Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: I... no, no. I don't, Jack. General Jack D. Ripper: Nineteen hundred and forty-six. 1946, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That's the way your hard-core Commie works. Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Uh, Jack, Jack, listen... tell me, tell me, Jack. When did you first... become... well, develop this theory? General Jack D. Ripper: [somewhat embarassed] Well, I, uh... I... I... first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love. Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Hmm. General Jack D. Ripper: Yes, a uh, a profound sense of fatigue... a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I... I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence. Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Hmm. General Jack D. Ripper: I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women uh... women sense my power and they seek the life essence. I, uh... I do not avoid women, Mandrake. Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: No. General Jack D. Ripper: But I... I do deny them my essence.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

There is wide agreement that fluoride is beneficial in reducing caries. But there is no consensus, worldwide, that administering it shotgun style in the drinking water supply is the best way to do it.

chootspa 1 year, 9 months ago

No, we don't know that, because it's junk science. Please stop.

chootspa 1 year, 9 months ago

Citing crazy junk science websites and cranks doesn't help your argument.

melott 1 year, 9 months ago

You know, maybe it's a plus. When you see Fox News and other news stories, and easily refuted claims like those based on the "Harvard study", and are able to point the problems out, it may actually push reasonable people away from the anti-fluoridation cause. So maybe we should cheer on the crazy junk science websites. "Those people" won't be put off, because that's their world--that's where they get all their information. But they are basically a lost cause anyway.

chootspa 1 year, 9 months ago

Fluoride and mind controlling lizard people FTW!

chootspa 1 year, 9 months ago

I know cognitive dissonance hurts, but you're going to have to work through it. Otherwise you'll just reinforce your own biases and continue to be pained whenever anyone challenges your incorrect assumptions. Not only have I viewed the science, I've probably viewed more of it than you have. All you've viewed is the snippets from some crank saying the things you want to hear. The Harvard study doesn't say what you think it says.

Katara 1 year, 9 months ago

So what does leading health expert Jenny McCarthy have to say about fluoridation?

chootspa 1 year, 9 months ago

She's as much of an authority on the subject as these anti-fluoride and please-buy-my-book websites they've been posting all over the place.

gr 1 year, 9 months ago

But fluoridation is different. It just happened without science. Then, everyone repeats it and say surely it must be good or they wouldn't be doing it.

verity 1 year, 9 months ago

I haven't studied the issue enough to have a set opinion, but I think that comparing lithium medication to fluoride is a bit of a false equivalency.

Boston_Corbett 1 year, 9 months ago

......and the US military shot down TWA flight 800.

MarcoPogo 1 year, 9 months ago

The Bilderberg Group is in our water!!!

gr 1 year, 9 months ago

For all you junk science sayers, Fluoridation of the drinking water IS junk science. Let's see some real non-biased science on it.

What is the null hypothesis?

Most likely, there will be some self-proclaimed junk scientists who will say the null hypothesis is that we must treat everyone with fluoride.

chootspa 1 year, 9 months ago

Your comment pretty much proves that you don't know what you're talking about. Or what a null hypothesis is. The null hypothesis would be that there's no statistical correlation between water fluoridation and caries. The null hypothesis was rejected because a statistically significant correlation was found, meaning the difference was not due to pure chance.

chootspa 1 year, 9 months ago

How about you don't guess and actually read the information provided? The city already fluoridates the water supply, and the only controversy is which size of tinfoil hat Commissioner Carter needs to block out the mind control devices from the lizard people.

melott 1 year, 9 months ago

Apparently actual information would confuse it.

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