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The next time you raise a glass of fluoridated city water to your mouth for a drink, think again. The water you are putting in your body to protect your teeth may be doing you more harm than good.

The story of fluoridating water is one of most successful public relations campaigns in history. The leader of the PR campaign was the “father of public relations,” Edward L. Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, who previously made a reputation for his campaign to persuade women to smoke cigarettes.

The campaign was so successful that the benefits of adding fluoride to water is considered “settled science,” and for years anyone who expressed concerns about the adverse side effects was considered a “kook.”

But fluoro-skeptics are no longer on the fringes of the debate.

As more evidence comes out about the dangers of fluoridation, communities, organizations and legislators that are taking up the cause against fluoridation have mounting scientific evidence to support their position.

On July 20, 2012, Harvard University researchers published a review of fluoride/brain studies in Environmental Health Perspectives. The study concludes “our results support the possibility of adverse effects of fluoride exposures on children’s neurodevelopment.”

The review also concluded, “The children in high fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ than those who lived in low fluoride areas.”

Other groups disagree.

The American Dental Association, in a pamphlet “10 Reasons to Fluoridate Public Water,” calls fluoridation the “single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay.”

The Centers for Disease Control issued a recommendation that water fluoridation is a “safe, effective, and inexpensive method to reduce tooth decay among populations with access to community water systems.”

It goes on to recommend that water fluoridation “should be continued in communities currently fluoridating and extended to those without fluoridation.”

These conflicting views are part of a discussion over water fluoridation that has been raging for almost 70 years.

The debate, however, has entered a new phase, with civil rights implications.

Regina Benjamin is the current surgeon general of the United States and has served in that office since 2009. Unlike previous surgeons general, and to the dismay of the American Dental Association, Benjamin failed to release a letter endorsing water fluoridation for the first four years of her tenure.

Eventually, Benjamin did issue a letter on the subject that was read at the opening ceremony of the National Oral Health Conference last month in Huntsville, Ala.

In the letter she stated:

Community water fluoridation is one of the most effective choices communities can make to prevent health problems while actually improving the oral health of their citizens.

She also said fluoridation was “the most cost-effective and practical way to provide protection from tooth decay in a community.”

Fluoridation opponents, such as health researcher Daniel Stockin of the Lillie Center for Scientific Research & Development in Health & Alternative Energy, note that nowhere in the statement did Benjamin use the word “safe.” He also finds the timing of the surgeon general’s endorsement very interesting.

On April 19, 2011, the American Dental Association and other dental groups sent a letter to Benjamin’s superior, Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh. The ADA was expressing pleasure that the Department of Health and Human Services is “moving forward on several oral health issues.”

Previously, on Jan. 7, 2011, the ADA issued a press release noting that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to recommend that the level for community water fluoridation be lowered to 0.7 parts per million (ppm). The new proposed standard would replace the existing recommended range of 0.7 to 1.2 ppm and put the recommended level at the lowest end of the then existing range. This represented a change in the existing recommendation for water fluoridation which had been effect since 1962.

The recommendation was made in response to “new data that address the prevalence of dental fluorosis (formation of spots on tooth enamel), fluid intake among children, and the contribution of fluoride in drinking water to total fluoride exposure in the United States.”

The interesting part of the ADA letter to Koh is in the second paragraph as follows:

We were very grateful to you and your staff for partnering with the ADA earlier this year on the announcement that the standard for fluoridated community water should be lowered. That is why we have asked for your help in addressing the concerns raised by Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and Pastor Gerald Durley regarding the safety of water fluoridation for minority populations. We believe that this issue has the potential to gain traction.

Just what is the issue that could “gain traction”?

Only a few weeks before the ADA wrote its letter to Dr. Koh, former Atlanta mayor and former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young and Civil Rights leader Gerald Durley, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Atlanta, both asked Georgia legislators to repeal the state’s mandatory water fluoridation law.

Young and Durley both expressed concerns about the fairness, safety and full disclosure regarding fluoridation in letters to the state’s minority and majority legislative leaders.

Young wrote: “My father was a dentist. I formerly was a strong believer in the benefits of water fluoridation for preventing cavities. But many things that we began to do 50 or more years ago we now no longer do, because we have learned further information that changes our practices and policies. So it is with fluoridation.”

He goes on to note that most cavities occur in the crevices of the molars of teeth where the food can tend to accumulate. Fluorides in water do little to stop cavities caused this way. Tooth sealants are a much more effective way to stop cavities in these areas and there is an emphasis on using tooth sealants as part of a child’s dental health with fluoride being applied to the surface of the teeth (known as a topical application).

Young goes on to say that not only does water fluoridation have a limited effect on cavity prevention, but also presents risks of adverse side effects on the human body. He urges that communities weigh these limited benefits against the potential risks to infants, diabetics and others as a result of using fluorides.

Young also wrote that 11 unions representing 7,000 EPA lab workers, scientists, and others have called for a halt to water fluoridation.

The National Research Council, also mentioned in Young’s letter, has acknowledged that the amount of fluoride in drinking water can cause significant harm to millions of persons using the nation’s water supply.

In a 2006 press release, the NRC notes:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for the maximum amount of fluoride allowed in drinking water – 4 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water – does not protect against adverse health effects … The committee that wrote the report concluded that children exposed to the current maximum allowable concentration risk developing severe tooth enamel fluorosis, a condition characterized by discoloration, enamel loss, and pitting of the teeth. A majority of the committee also concluded that people who consume water containing that much fluoride over a lifetime are likely at increased risk for bone fractures.

Durley sends much the same message but also highlights the harm fluoridation is doing to the black community in his area.

In his letter, Rev. Durley writes:

… Fluoridation disproportionately harms members of the black community. The Centers for Disease Control’s own information acknowledges that blacks have significantly more ‘dental fluorosis’ teeth staining than whites. … Also, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences has designated kidney patients, diabetics, seniors, and babies as ‘susceptible subpopulations’ that are especially vulnerable to harm from ingested fluorides. Black citizens are disproportionately affected by kidney disease and diabetes, and are therefore more impacted by fluorides.

He also gives some common sense wisdom on the subject, “Lack of fluoride does not cause cavities. Too many sugars on the teeth, lack of access to dental care, and lack of dental health education-these cause cavities.”

Andrew Young also touches on the matter in his letter:

I am most deeply concerned for poor families who have babies: if they cannot afford unfluoridated water for their babies milk formula, do their babies not count? Of course they do. This is an issue of fairness, civil rights, and compassion.

Other community leaders have also weighed in on this issue. Bernice King and Alveda King, the daughter and niece of Martin Luther King Jr. respectively, have also made public statements opposing water fluoridation.

On her webpage, Alveda King wrote of her concern over fluoridated water:

Planned Parenthood, founded by Margaret Sanger, once advocated “Birth Control” water. Some scientific studies show that flouride (sic) can be harmful to the human reproductive process.

Daniel G. Stockin, MPH has been following this issue for nine years. Stockin is the former manager of the EPA Western Regional Lead Training Center. He is a career public health professional with a background in toxics assessment and hazardous materials management. He is known internationally for his work at the Lillie Center, a Georgia-based firm working to end water fluoridation.

Stockin noted that it took four years for the current Surgeon General to make a formal endorsement of fluoridation. He believes the delay was, in part, because the Lillie Center spoke to her assistant and forwarded the background information they had collected on fluoride and the harm it was doing to the black community soon after Benjamin took office.

Stockin suspects the reason for the four-year delay in issuing a statement supporting fluoridation is because “a series of damage control efforts by the ADA and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on the building body of scientific evidence showing disproportionate harm to black Americans from fluorides.”

Many municipalities are taking up the fluoridation issue with the city of Portland, Ore., heavily involved in the issue. In the upcoming vote on fluoridation, the NAACP of Portland has come out against fluoridation and the issue is beginning to “gain traction.”

Stockin believes that the Portland initiative, among others, may be the reason for Benjamin’s belated public support for fluoridation.

On June 29, 2000, EPA Chemist Dr. William Hirzy was invited to give testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water on the fluoride debate. He summarized the use of fluoride-bearing compounds this way:

If this stuff gets out into the air, it’s a pollutant; if it gets into the river, it’s a pollutant; if it gets into the lake, it’s a pollutant; but if it goes right straight into your drinking water system, it’s not a pollutant. That’s amazing!

Stockin sums up the debate succinctly:

We’ve been adding fluoride chemicals to drinking water for decades to theoretically help prevent cavities, but it turns out that no one did important whole-body, outside-the-mouth health effects studies before starting fluoridation. We’ve learned that fluorides accumulate in the pineal gland, and that fluorides can also reduce IQ.

Now coming to light are disturbing efforts by the dental lobby to suppress news of disproportionate harm from fluoridated city water to the black community and other minorities, to kidney patients, and to babies and children.

The actions taken to keep the news under wraps are a key part of the unfolding Fluoridegate scandal.

The debate over fluoridation has been ongoing for decades but now may be coming to a head.

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