Fluoride: No Reason to Smile - Page 2

Author // Robert Schecter

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Fluoride: No Reason to Smile
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Unfortunately, fluoridated water is not the only source of exposure. Toothpaste adds substantially to the burden. It is very often swallowed, especially by vulnerable, younger children. And even when used by children with good control of swallowing, it adds as much fluoride to the “diet” as do all other sources—including fluoridated water.

But can we afford to give up fluoridated toothpaste? Surely that works. After all we’ve seen the commercials telling us it’s “clinically proven to fight cavities.” But what does clinically proven really mean?

When “clinically proven” benefits have been found, they generally fall within the 15–30% range, which is large enough to be called “significant.” However, because these percentages are expressed in terms of the DMFS index, those “benefits” are, as in the previously cited NIDR fluoridation study, again in the half of one tooth surface range—hardly anything to crow about.

Then one must consider the studies from which these numbers are derived. One particularly revealing study, conducted in 1962 and funded by Proctor and Gamble, maker of fluoridated Crest, basically gave out free toothpaste— some fluoridated and some not—to kids and told them to use it, with or without supervision and however they pleased, at home.

Not surprisingly, the study found that the fluoride toothpaste was protective. It also found the kids were brushing less than once a day and for about 40 seconds at a time—a less than optimal regimen to say the least. And remember, they were using toothbrushes of the 1960s, which are hardly comparable to those of today.

In regard to fluoride consumption, there are two other items about which parents need to be particularly concerned. The first is white grape juice and the second mechanically separated chicken which is found in baby food, chicken sticks and chicken nuggets. Both contain high levels of fluoride— the former due to pesticides, the later due to fluoride-containing bone dust released during the separation process.

When fluoride was introduced into the water supply, the 1 ppm level was, in general, deemed optimal. It provided a supposed anticaries effect without creating an excessively high risk of fluorosis. But the emergence of additional sources of fluoride has exposed children to substantially more than the optimal amount, creating an epidemic of dental fluorosis. The government’s response has been to do nothing but to expand fluoridation while celebrating its imagined virtues.

The increased consumption of fluoride among children has been matched by an increase in adult consumption. A 2000 study published in the British Medical Journal found adult fluoride intake varies from between 1.58 to 6.60 mg/day. Much of this fluoride is stored in bone and can cause a condition called skeletal fluorosis. According to the NRC and others, consumption of as little as 10 mg of fluoride per day over a ten-year period may cause a crippling form of the disease. That’s an amount under the highest consumption levels reported, but one must remember these high levels are being consumed over a lifetime, not a ten-year period. Additionally, if 10 mg over 10 years can cause the disease’s crippling form, how much fluoride over what period of time causes a less severe manifestation? And what do we do after our 10 years are up? Move to another country. The NRC report does reassure us that, “crippling skeletal fluorosis in the United States has been rare and not a public health problem.” Which is reassuring until we realize the symptoms of skeletal fluorosis are indistinguishable from those of arthritis—a disease whose prevalence grows day by day.

If fluoride sounds like something you’d like to avoid, here are my suggestions.

Use bottled water for cooking and drinking. I prefer brands that remove fluoride using the reverse-osmosis filtering process. Remember, fluoride exists in the earth as a natural element, and therefore may be present, at undesirable levels, in some bottled waters.

Switch to a non-fluoridated toothpaste. The kids might not like the idea of giving up Tweety Bird™, Barbie™ and the artificial sweeteners (although some non-fluoridated toothpastes now replicate the taste of the fluoridated variety) but they’ll get used to it. Just be firm when you make the change. If they resist brushing, inform them, in a pleasant, non-threatening way that you’ll no longer be able to provide any treats until they see the error of their ways.

If you’re not ready to give up fluoride toothpaste, at least restrict the amount your children use to the recommended pea-sized amount and make sure they don’t swallow it. Additionally keep an eye on them when they brush: at least twice a day and especially before bed. If we don’t see them brush, there’s no guarantee they’re brushing—even if they say they are.

Choose health over chemicals. If you have the former you won’t need the latter. I had a mouthful of cavities growing up in optimally fluoridated—and sugared—NY, while my daughter, fluoride-free for the last five years and living a healthier lifestyle, is, knock on wood, cavity-free at age twelve.

Pathways Issue 17 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #17.

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