Bruce Lanphear, Child Health Protection
The debate about the fluoridation of drinking water – one of the most polarized, long-running, and highly decent public health controversies – has resumed as new studies have shown that fluoride is toxic to the developing brain.
Last week, the US National Toxicology Program published a systematic review of all published studies assessing the potential neurotoxicity of fluoride. The benefits of fluoride in terms of reducing tooth decay were not addressed. A committee of the National Academy of Science, Medicine and Engineering will examine this in the fall. This comprehensive report examined hundreds of human and animal studies on the effects of fluoride on the brain and cognitive function. Most, but not all, high-quality studies rated fluoride levels as about twice the amount added to drinking water or greater. However, considering all the evidence, their conclusion was, "Fluoride is considered to be a cognitive developmental hazard for humans."
The National Toxicology Program's conclusion was bolstered by a synthesis of high quality studies that showed that children exposed to higher levels of fluoride during early brain development scored about 3 to 7 points less on their IQ tests.
Your conclusion is consistent, given that approximately 75% of Americans in municipal water systems have fluoride in their tap water. Water is the primary source of fluoride for people living in communities with water fluoridation.
When do we know enough to revise long-held beliefs? We are reminded of the discovery of the neurotoxic effects of lead, which led to the successful ban on lead in gasoline and paint. Despite early warnings of lead toxicity, regulatory action to reduce lead exposure in children was not put in place until after decades of research had passed and millions more children were poisoned.
We know that the developing brain is extremely sensitive to tiny concentrations of lead and other toxic chemicals. In addition, the irreversible effects of toxic chemicals on the rapidly growing brains of children underscore the need for prevention.
Failure to respond to evidence gathered raises deep and worrying questions. Why are beliefs about the safety of fluoride so adamant in the face of consistent evidence to the contrary?
The costs outweigh the benefits
Fluoride does not provide any benefit to the fetus or infant, and – as shown in the video below – new evidence suggests that fluoride in levels routinely found in the general population is toxic to the developing brain.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hI4kpvW760M (/ embed)
The benefits of fluoride in tooth decay prevention are mostly topical and only appear when teeth appear in the child's mouth. Fortunately, pregnant women can use fluoridated toothpaste and, if they want to do more to prevent tooth decay, limit their sugar intake, one of the main causes of tooth decay.
The loss of a single IQ point for a single child is imperceptible, but the societal cost to millions of children who lose 5 IQ points or more is enormous. A decrease of even 1 IQ point means a 2% decrease in lifelong economic productivity (about $ 20,000), not to mention the additional educational costs required for children with lower IQs.
Many health and dental organizations in North America recommend fluoridating water in the community. With ample evidence that fluoride is toxic to the developing brain, now is the time for health organizations and regulators to review their recommendations and regulations to ensure they are protecting pregnant women and their children.
We can act now by recommending that pregnant women and infants reduce their fluoride intake.
Specialized water filtration systems can be used to remove fluoride from tap water for pregnant women and infants who are formula-fed. Pregnant women can also avoid black tea, which is too rich in fluoride. The good news for all women is that breast milk is low in fluoride. Bottled water typically contains lower amounts of fluoride than fluorinated tap water.
Some health lawyers go a step further. In 2016, a group of citizens filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop adding fluoride to drinking water because it is toxic. The EPA denied the petition. In response, the Citizens' Group took an unprecedented move and sued the EPA in federal court. The EPA's attorneys half-heartedly argued that the science was inadequate, saying the agency did not have the resources to regulate fluoride under the Toxic Substance Control Act.
In August, Ninth Circuit Judge Edward Chen postponed his decision on whether fluoridation was an inappropriate risk until the National Toxicology Program released its report.
New evidence calls into question existing guidelines on the safety of fluoride for the developing brain of babies. Given that safe alternatives are available and that babies' teeth are of no use before the onset or appearance of fluoride, it is time to protect those most at risk.
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