For years, anyone who questioned the efficacy of fluoridated water was cast to the lunatic fringe. Fortunately, concerns over fluoridated water, and its impact on childhood health, are beginning to be heard on a national level. Early last year, the federal government lowered the recommended level of fluoride in U.S. community drinking water to 0.7 milligrams per liter.
The updated recommendations were due to a growing prevalence of dental fluorosis in children and adolescents, as well as the fact that Americans already receive fluoride through a myriad of other sources, like toothpaste and mouthwashes. Approximately 200 million Americans had a fluoridated community water system in 2012, according to the report. Although the federal government still recommends fluoridated water for dental health reasons, the choice to add fluoride to community water systems is in the hands of state and local governments.
The drop in fluoride levels in water is a small victory, but some scientists, such as Philippe Grandjean, an adjunct professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, don’t think these recommendations go far enough. “Lowering the recommended fluoridation level to 0.7 mg per liter is very well-justified. I would in fact recommend that the level be reduced even further,” he said in an article for Newsweek.
Fluoride impairs childhood brain development
These concerns are provoked by the impact fluoridated water may have on childhood brain development. It is known that high levels of fluoride can cause neurotoxicity in adults. Research on rats suggests that fluoride can impair memory and learning, but not much is known about its effects on brain development in children. In order to answer this question, a meta-analysis was conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and China Medical University in Shenyang in 2012.
The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. After combing through 27 studies, the team found a strong correlation between fluoride and impaired cognitive development in children. Nearly all the studies reviewed were from China, where the risks attached to fluoride are well known. At the time of the review, no human studies examining the relationship between fluoride and brain development had been conducted in the U.S.
The studies from China were incomplete and varied in several ways. Taken together, however, the review is a valuable contribution to understanding the potential risks of fluoridated water. “For the first time we have been able to do a comprehensive meta-analysis that has the potential for helping us plan better studies. We want to make sure that cognitive development is considered as a possible target for fluoride toxicity,” said lead author of the study, Anna Choi.
Researchers gathered epidemiological studies of children who consumed fluoride via drinking water. Studies were drawn from the China National Knowledge Infrastructure database. The researchers then looked for possible links between fluoride consumption and the IQ levels of 8,000 children. Only one study did not find a link between high fluoride levels and impaired cognitive development.
The team discovered that fluoridated water was associated with a drop of seven IQ points using IQ scores with standard deviation of 15. Some of the studies indicated that even slightly heightened fluoride exposure could be poisonous to the brain. Unsurprisingly, children from high-fluoridated communities had significantly lower IQ points in comparison to children from low-fluoridated communities.
“Fluoride seems to fit in with lead, mercury, and other poisons that cause chemical brain drain,” Grandjean says. “The effect of each toxicant may seem small, but the combined damage on a population scale can be serious, especially because the brain power of the next generation is crucial to all of us.”
Putting an end to fluoridated water
Nearly 75 percent of the U.S. population receives drinking water with 0.7-1.2 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride, based on federal recommendations made more than four decades ago. As noted earlier, the decision to add fluoride to drinking water systems is made by the state and local governments. According to reports by the CDC, Massachusetts, which is currently mired in controversy regarding fluoridation, tends to add concentrations of 1.0 ppm of fluoride to their drinking water.
“Just because we did studies over the last 70 years, it doesn’t mean that we did everything that is necessary to know for sure that fluoridation is not toxic to some processes in the body or development of the brain. Those studies have actually not been done,” Grandjean added.
Although progress has been made in lowering fluoride concentrations at a national level, more work needs to be done. Demand the end of water fluoridation in your community. Phone those responsible for water fluoridation and put an end to what they are doing. Alert them to the potential dangers fluoridated water poses to the public, that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work with respect to health, and that the government has no business prescribing drugs to the masses. In short: It’s time to say goodbye to fluoride.