Fluoridated toothpaste has a good reason, which is the various scientific studies showing that dental decay drops with sodium fluoride applied directly on teeth. What about fluoridated water, i.e. adding fluoride compounds to tap water? It too is supposed to reduce dental decay, but does it? Are there side effects? The answers may surprise you.

Arguments Against Water Fluoridation

Arguments against water fluoridation are various:

Harmful

Water fluoridation jeopardizes health. It stains teeth, brittles bones, impairs fertility, lowers IQ and thyroid function.

Crude Dosage

Unlike any medicine, the dosage of fluoride ingested via water is mismatched to personal need, drinking habits, sensitivity, body weight.

Impure

Medical-grade sodium fluoride is added in at most 9% of tap water treatments; mostly added is untreated fluorosilicic acid, the phosphate fertilizer industry's by-product, which has arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury.

Outdated

The 60-year-old science and motives that brought water fluoridation into existence are outdated, but the practice and recommended fluoride concentration remain the same.

No Informed Consent

Most Americans drinking it are unaware or poorly informed of its effects, so there is a lack of informed consent, a modern ethical prerequisite.

Origin Of Water Fluoridation

The origin of water fluoridation was an instance of "regulatory capture" by polluters. Fluoridation Revisited recalls that in the 1930s it already was clear that fluoride was toxic, sold as rat poison. As a by-product of the aluminum industry it drew increasing lawsuits. With WWII, aluminum output peaked, and so did fluoride output and lawsuits.

Right after, 1946, Oscar Ewing, a $750,000/year lawyer for the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA), took a huge pay cut as he become head of the Public Health Service. There he waged a national drive for water fluoridation, on the grounds it actually reduced dental decay, a theory promoted earlier in 1939 by Gerald J. Cox, also of ALCOA. To turn popular perception of fluoride from rat poison to dental medicine, Ewing hired Edward Bernays, the father of public relations. Having succeeded in popularizing water fluoridation, Ewing then returned to ALCOA as its chief lawyer.

For more about the aluminum industry's the legal troubles and funding of favorable studies, see Fluoride and Industry.

Why Is Water Still Fluoridated?

At the beginning, regulatory capture was by aluminum producers. Nowadays, phosphate fertilizer producers maintain regulatory capture.

Already in the 1960s, their fluoride air emissions were so great and harmful that the EPA required them to install scrubbers. The phosphate fertilizer industry has been marketing this "scrubbed liquor" known as fluorosilicic or fluosilicic acid for water fluoridation, just because it contains about 19% fluoride. The EPA not only failed to object, the EPA's Deputy Administrator for Water in 1983 notoriously endorsed water fluoridation for disposing of phosphate fertilizer by-product: "By recovering by-product fluosilicic acid from fertilizer manufacturing, water and air pollution are minimized, and water utilities have a low-cost source of fluoride available to them." Some regulatory capture!

A top EPA scientist's Congressional testimony so ridiculed the EPA's contradictory regulations: "In other words, the solution to pollution is dilution, as long as the pollutant is dumped straight into drinking water systems and not into rivers or the atmosphere."

With such regulatory capture, it is not surprising that nowadays the fluoride added to tap water is mostly from the phosphate fertilizer producers.

Continuing Regulatory Capture

The EPA is sympathetic to disposal into tap water of the phosphate fertilizer industry's by-product, on grounds it contains fluoride.

Institutional Liability

Supportive institutions, such as the EPA and ADA, can only admit to ill-effects at great costs - financial, reputational, moral.

Popular Confusion

Support for fluoridated toothpaste seems as sensible as support for fluoridated water.

Science Silenced

Dissenting scientists fired, supporting science fudged, EPA's changing standards, all give crutch to water fluoridation.

Uncritical Deference

Many assume that every EPA and FDA policy is formed chiefly around safety and health.

Cognitive Dissonance

Learning of fellow humans' callousness to fluoride's toxicity can be too painful to accept.

If marketing toxic waste in water for so long seems too strange to be true, recall that marketing cigarettes and DDT sprays survived long after their toxicity had been noted and proved.

Future of Water Fluoridation

Awareness is increasing, and so is opposition. The city of Seattle is on notice. Cities, water districts, and EPA are targets already of legal actions.

Preemptively, some support of water fluoridation is reversing in face-saving ways, before lawsuits bite. The CDC has reduced recommended level of fluoridation in part because "Americans have access to more sources of fluoride". Jurisdictions are stopping fluoridating water to "save money" (as if it were free in the past) and to "arrest dental fluorosis" (as if it were not long commonplace). Even the ADA, without changing its official support, hinted to dentists in its 2011 report on fluoride intake from reconstituted infant formula that "for parents and caregivers who are concerned about ... fluorosis, practitioners can suggest ... formula reconstituted with water that either is fluoride free or contains only low concentrations ..." (as if fluorosis in babies were not already known).

Perhaps in the near future, people will agree with William Hirzy that the proper application of fluoride is like that of sun lotion: "If you want to prevent sunburn, you don't drink suntan lotion. You put it on your skin. And so if you want to have the benefits of fluoride in oral health, what you do is put it on the surface of the tooth and not drink it."

For more about opposition to water fluoridation, see Christopher Bryson's book, the Fluoride Action Network's website, including its video of professional perspectives on water fluoridation.