The Centers for Disease Control and the American Dental Association call water fluoridation one of the top 10 health advancements of the 20th century. Cavity rates have declined in the United States since fluoridation began in the 1940s, but is fluoridation the reason dental health has improved in this over the last 60 years?

When water fluoridation began in the 1940s, pregnant women smoked and lead was added to gasoline. Thanks to modern science, now we know better. Will water fluoridation soon join the list of outdated science? Improving the oral health of the lower class is an important public policy goal, but is adding fluoride to drinking water the most effective way to achieve that goal?

The Science behind Water Fluoridation

Both the CDC and ADA admit that the benefit of fluoride to teeth is topical, not systemic. This means that fluoride is beneficial to teeth when applied directly to the enamel, like when we brush with toothpaste, not when we swallow it. In fact, ingestion of too much fluoride causes dental fluorosis, the white and brown spotting of teeth, a disorder the CDC says affects a third of American children.

If the benefit is topical, why are we swallowing it?

The CDC believes that water fluoridation is beneficial because cavity rates have decreased since fluoridation began 60 years ago. But one of the first things you learn at LBJ is that correlation does not imply causation. Could advancements in technology and health care over the past 60 years be responsible for the decrease in cavities?

Studies from the 1950s and 60s claim that water fluoridation prevents cavities, but more recent studies refute those claims, like Paul Connett’s 2010 study entitled “The Case Against Fluoride”. The National Research Council’s 2006 report, “Fluoride in Drinking Water”, reviewed 1,100 studies on fluoride and concluded that fluoride ingestion has harmful biological effects on multiple human organs, especially the thyroid and pineal gland. Fluoride ingestion is also associated with lower IQs in children, according to a highly-cited 1994 study.

Fluoride outside the U.S.

Most of Europe does not fluoridate. Switzerland, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Iceland, Belgium, Austria and France have all rejected water fluoridation and have similar cavity rates to the U.S. In fact, the European Court of Justice recently determined that fluoride is a medicine, and therefore water fluoridation is a form of forced medication.

Dr. Ghatak, a water expert from India, came to speak at the LBJ School in October 2010. At dinner, he said that no part of India adds fluoride to their drinking water, and in some parts the natural level of fluoride is so high that it is toxic.

Just last week, Waterloo, Canada, voted to remove fluoride from their drinking water. Interestingly, fluoride proponents in Waterloo “chose to skip two public forums” discussing the costs and benefits of fluoridation, reported Waterloo’s newspaper The Record.

Why won’t supporters of water fluoridation engage in a public discussion?

The Fluoride Fight in Austin

This fight over fluoride in Texas is not a traditional squabble between Republicans and Democrats, it’s actually between Austin City Council and its own advisory board.

Last November the environmental board recommended to Austin City Council that they establish an independent task force to investigate the costs and benefits of water fluoridation. The CDC and ADA have warned parents to not use fluoridated water for baby formula. Two months ago, Austin Health and Human Services issued the same warning, telling parents to not give fluoridated water to their infants. Still, City Council has done nothing.

Council Member Randi Shade recently visited the LBJ School, and she said that fluoride is not her area of expertise. Council Member Bill Spellman said that he had to do some reading on fluoride before moving forward.

I understand that city council members are not water fluoridation experts. Our mayor is an airline pilot. But we cannot allow the lack of expertise of the city council to endanger public health by ignoring the environmental board’s recommendation and by refusing to investigate the costs and benefits of water fluoridation.

Interestingly, Council Member Shade mentioned that she talked to her dentist and knew not to use fluoridated water when making baby formula.  Water fluoridation is usually promoted as a way of improving the health of the lower class. Does city council expect the poor to be able to afford bottled water or expensive filters in order to follow CDC recommendations and protect their children from fluoride?

The sad reality is that something championed as a means of helping the poor is actually damaging the teeth, bones and brains of babies.

Is Fluoride Worth It?

Water fluoridation is an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. Travis County has approximately 150,000 impoverished people, and the $728,200 Austin spends each year on fluoride could buy 1.5 tubes of toothpaste for each Travis County citizen living below the poverty line. Why not use our tax dollars effectively and buy poor people the toothpaste they need rather than forcing them and every other plant, animal and citizen in Austin to ingest fluoride?

The Fluoride Debate Comes to UT

Tomorrow, Thursday, November 4, from 7 to 9 pm (after the post-election wrap-up), there will be a discussion of the costs and benefits of water fluoridation at the Thompson Conference Center on Red River and Dean Keeton, located right next to the LBJ School. This event is sponsored by Fluoride Free Austin, the Fluoride Action Network and Libertarian Longhorns.

Dentists, environmental scientists, professors and health-care professionals will discuss fluoridation and field questions from the audience. Dr. Paul Connett, a world-renowned expert on water fluoridation, will be there. Dr. Connett is in town to promote his new book, The Case Against Fluoride, an easy to read yet highly referenced study of water fluoridation.

Eleven pro-fluoride experts were invited to be on the panel this Thursday, including members of Austin Health and Human Services, the AMA, the Texas Department of Health and Human Services and a professor at UT. Professor David Eaton of the LBJ School was the only pro-fluoride expert who agreed to participate.

Dr. Eaton will present for 10 to 15 minutes about the benefits of fluoridation and will join the discussion panel. I am very grateful to Professor Eaton for participating. Having both sides represented will make the debate more fun and enlightening for everyone.

If you want to learn more about how fluoride got into our water in the first place, read or YouTube Christopher Bryson’s book, The Fluoride Deception.

If you believe that the city of Austin should investigate water fluoridation, call City Council and ask them to move forward with the environmental recommendation to investigate fluoride:

Lee Leffingwell – Mayor

Phone: (512)974-2250

Chris Riley – Place 1

Phone: (512)974-2260

Mike Martinez – Place 2

Phone: (512)974-2264

Randi Shade – Place 3

Phone: (512)974-2255

Laura Morrison – Place 4

Phone: (512)974-2258

Bill Spelman – Place 5

Phone: (512)974-2256

Sheryl Cole – Place 6

Phone: (512)974-2266

And if you are still unsure if you want to swallow fluoride, search fluoride online and read about it, or just check the back of your tube of toothpaste.