BRUSHING UP ON THE SCIENCE
Why you’re not being given the facts about fluoride
It’s the debate that never goes away. Fluoride: it does get in – we all agree on that much – but what does it do when it gets there? IAN WISHART reports on the landmark High Court ruling giving the green light to fluoridation nationwide, and what that ruling does, and doesn’t, mean
Few things are more likely to get establishment news media more agitated into “public education campaign” mode than a health story. Virtually every night, our news bulletins are full of stories about health issues and the wonderful medications being used to treat them.
When the battle to stop fluoridation in Hamilton’s water supply welled up in recent years, the news media fell over themselves to act as mouthpieces for the Ministry of Health, trotting out officials in white coats assuring the public that fluoridation was a key weapon in fighting child tooth decay.
The on-again/off-again process of adding fluoride to Hamilton water looks set to be on again after the March High Court ruling in favour of the South Taranaki District Council’s right to fluoridate. Local authorities around New Zealand had been watching that case like hawks.
But what does the judgement, approving the fluoridation process, actually mean?
For many, it seemed like a judicial endorsement of fluoridation after carefully weighing the pros and cons of the arguments. Here, for example, is how the Bay of Plenty Times newspaper revelled in it:
“The anti-fluoride brigade must be gnashing its rotten teeth after receiving a huge blow in the long-running battle over fluoride in drinking water.
“On Friday, the High Court ruled against a group New Health New Zealand, which had taken on the South Taranaki District Council.
“The anti-fluoride group said the council had no legal powers to put fluoride in water.
“But a judge dismissed the claims, saying there was “implied power to fluoridate” in the Local Government Act, and putting fluoride in water was not a medical treatment, as argued by campaigners, so it was not in breach of the Bill of Rights as the anti-fluoride group claimed.
“He agreed with council evidence that showed the advantages of fluoridation significantly outweighed the mild fluorosis that was “an accepted outcome of fluoridation”.”
Easy to see in that editorial that the newspaper regarded it as a test case on the merits of fluoride. Yet here’s what Justice Hansen actually said at the start of his judgement:
“It is important to make it clear at the outset that this judgment is not required to pronounce on the merits of fluoridation. The issues I am required to address concern the power of a local body to fluoridate drinking water supply. That is a legal question which does not require me to canvass or express a view on the arguments for and against fluoridation.”
In other words, the focus of the case before him was not whether fluoride was good or bad, but purely whether councils had the power, within existing NZ law, to add it to water.
Although Hansen arguably went on to exceed his brief by praising fluoride as a public health initiative – “Accepting, as I must, that there is respectable scientific and medical support for the Council’s position, I am driven to the conclusion that the significant advantages of fluoridation clearly outweigh the only acknowledged drawback, the increased incidence of fluorosis. I am satisfied that the power conferred on local authorities to fluoridate is a proportionate response to the scourge of dental decay, particularly in socially disadvantaged areas” – readers must recall, he did not actually go deep enough into the evidence for and against fluoride to justify his statement.
Justice Hansen’s decision was one that placed the rights of the State above the rights of the individual. From a doctrine a century ago that the State had next to no rights to interfere with individual health and food choices, Hansen is clearly of the view that the State has precisely those rights, if officials can couch it within the terms of “public health” rather than individual health:
“Provided it does not have consequences for public health a person has the right to make even the poorest decisions in respect of their own health,” ruled Hansen.
“But where the state, either directly or through local government, employs public health interventions, the right is not engaged. Were it otherwise, the individual’s right to refuse would become the individual’s right to decide outcomes for others. It would give any person a right of veto over public health measures which it is not only the right but often the responsibility of local authorities to deliver.”
Constitutionally, that’s a doctrine upholding the view that “the State knows best what’s good for you”. It’s a judgement that could be used to enforce compulsory vaccinations or any other health procedure the Government decides the community should be forced to undertake.
Accepting that Hansen did not make a binding ruling on the merits of fluoride, but only on its legality as a council-sanctioned water additive, what does the evidence actually say about the merits?
Because the real question for parents or anyone else for that matter who drinks water is this: does fluoride in the water cause harm? Does it protect teeth?
It is often said dentists are strongest advocates of fluoride. Perhaps in New Zealand, but elsewhere debate rages.
“There is no discernible health benefit derived from ingested fluoride and that the preponderance of evidence shows that ingested fluoride in dosages now prevalent in public exposures aggravates existing illnesses, and causes a greater incidence of adverse health effects,” reports the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT) – a major North American dental professional association.
“Ingested fluoride is hereby recognized as unsafe, and ineffective for the purposes of reducing tooth decay.”
That decision, says the IAOMT, was reached after careful analysis of the scientific research.
While Justice Hansen may have found the research prepared by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health compelling as to efficacy of fluoride, it’s fair to say the IAOMT’s latest report is scathing of the quality of that research suggesting fluoridated water is beneficial:
“Upon examination of studies espoused by promoters of fluoridation as proof of effectiveness, the Academy was able to ascertain that there are no epidemiological studies indicating effectiveness of ingested fluoride that conform to scientific standards for broad-based or random selection, blinded examinations, and appropriate controls.”
In other words, the quality of the cited studies is highly dubious.
It turns out New Zealand is directly guilty of providing some of that highly suspect “research”. Anti-fluoridation scientist Dr Paul Connett toured New Zealand in the lead up to the court ruling and highlighted how the science justifying fluoride has been twisted:
“It appears the fluoridation programme was launched in New Zealand in 1964 based upon a fraudulent study,” Connett told the Ian Wishart radio show on Live365.com.
“I’m referring here to the Hastings-Napier trial in which, after a very short time, the ‘control’ city of Napier was dropped (for reasons that may not have been legitimate), but either way after dropping Napier it became a longitudinal study – you compared the tooth decay in the children in Hastings at the beginning of the experiment, with the tooth decay in the children at the end of the experiment ten years later.
“This trial went from 1954 to 1964. Now, what happened in the middle of this trial was the diagnostic for what teeth required filling was changed. At the beginning, school dental nurses were being instructed to fill mere indentations, not even caries, and that requirement was more stringent.
“Then they changed it so that you didn’t do fillings until caries were actually creating holes in the teeth.
“Now what makes this fraud in my view, when this study was finally published and they claimed a huge reduction in tooth decay as a result of ‘fluoridation’, they didn’t indicate to the public that this diagnostic had been changed. That to me is fraud. If you change a key parameter which has an effect on your result, that’s outrageous from a scientific point of view.”
The net result of the change was simple. At the start of the study, huge numbers of fillings were being carried out because the definition of tooth decay was set at a lower threshold – even mere specks resulted in fillings. Halfway through the study, a change in the definition of tooth decay resulted in a huge drop in the number of fillings, as nurses were then instructed not to fill unless they found actual holes.
That change alone was probably responsible for the purported drop in ‘tooth decay’. If the scientists conducting the study had been honest, the study would have been abandoned at the point the definition changed. But it wasn’t, and the researchers did not mention the elephant in the room.
Behind the scenes they knew about it, alright, because their own analysis of the corrected data revealed fluoridated water was having no impact on tooth decay:
“They published a letter from G H Leslie,” Connett told the Ian Wishart show. “He was then the head of the Dental Division for NZ – the top dental guy in the country. And in this letter, dated October 1962 – eight years into this experiment – he is lamenting the fact that they can’t find any evidence that fluoride is reducing tooth decay. Now this is eight years into the experiment. In the last sentence of his letter he writes, ‘I won’t rest easily until we have found a simple method of demonstrating fluoridation equals less fillings’.
“I think this is the smoking gun. If after eight years of your trial you can’t find the evidence that fluoride equals less fillings, and then magically, mysteriously, two years later, the report is published and they claim a dramatic reduction in tooth decay – if you join the dots I think we are looking at fraud here, which means the whole fluoridation programme of New Zealand is based upon a fraudulent study.”
Connett ended up in a huge debate with pro-fluoridation soil scientist Ken Perrott about whether the study was “fraudulent” or not. Perrott was forced to admit the New Zealand study was certainly “bad science” but was offended by the allegation of fraud. Nonetheless, their debate showed even New Zealand’s most ardent fluoride supporters had been forced to admit the local research has been appalling.
It seems bizarre that New Zealand health officials are still arguing – and managing to convince high court judges – that fluoridated water is beneficial against tooth decay when even the most ardent fluoride supporter internationally – the American Dental Association – admitted in its journal fourteen years ago “that the mechanism by which fluoride may have a meaningful impact on the reduction of dental caries is by topical application, not ingestion.”
This, says the IAOMT, supports “the contention that the claimed study-results of large scale reduction in tooth decay are results obtained by study-design bias.”
In other words, the pro-fluoride studies are worthless.
For anti-fluoridationist Paul Connett, the research against adding fluoride to the water supply has become compelling:
“It’s a bad medical practice, using the water supply to deliver medication for human treatment – you can’t control the dose, you can’t control who receives the medicine, and you are violating the individual’s right to informed consent. No doctor should support fluoridation in my view.
“Secondly, the benefits have been wildly exaggerated by the promoters of this practice, and sadly we have civil servants, particularly in New Zealand, acting as outright propagandists for this practice rather than providing objective information to the public.
“Finally, there are serious risks involved that are becoming clearer and clearer, largely because of studies done in China and India where they have high natural levels of fluoride. You are not doing the studies – the health studies – in New Zealand or Australia or the other fluoridated countries, but in these countries which don’t have a fluoridation programme to protect it’s obvious that there are huge risks.
“A big concern of mine, in addition to the fact that fluoride accumulates in the body, in the bones – will it increase arthritis, hip fractures and so on – but my big concern is what it’s doing to our babies’ brains. There are now 37 studies indicating a lowering of IQ in children, associated with fairly modest exposure to fluoride. In one study the level was just 1.8 part per million (ppm) of fluoride in the water. Now you ask any toxicologist, and that offers no adequate margin for safety to protect against damage to the whole range of children in New Zealand.”
That 1.8ppm threshold for harm becomes particularly important when you realise there are many other sources of fluoride in our diet than just drinking water at 1ppm. Chuck in the amount of fluoride that kids swallow when using toothpaste, and the fluoride present in some foods (fluoride is a soil chemical), and it’s little wonder that the University of York in Britain found 48% of children in areas with fluoridated water had toxic levels of fluoride in their bodies.
That York study was published in the British Dental Journal in 2002 and reported on nine studies showing evidence of fluoride damage to bones in children at exposures lower than 1ppm – the current drinking water standard for New Zealand.
Connett, with science and chemistry degrees from Cambridge University and Dartmouth in the USA (his PhD), is no slouch on fluoride science but admits he came late to it:
“I taught chemistry at St Lawrence University from 1983 to 2006 when I retired. My speciality at the end was environmental chemistry and toxicology.
“It was during this teaching that I first got involved with the fluoridation issue. I didn’t want it, I really didn’t want to be involved, but my wife persuaded me that this issue needed to be examined. I was heavily involved in waste management issues, fighting incinerators and promoting alternatives for reducing municipal waste, and that activity was using up all my weekends, all my holidays.
“I certainly didn’t want a third issue that would stigmatise me as ‘looney-toons’. As you know, proponents of fluoridation always maintain that they have the authority, they have the science, and the people against this are junk scientists using junk science.
“They’ve done their level best over 60 years to portray all opponents of fluoridation as crazy people. That’s why many academics don’t want to get involved with this issue. But my wife was persuasive enough for me to start reading the papers that she put on my desk, and there were two things which really struck me: I had thought at the time that the opponents had confused the highly reactive element fluorine with the fairly benign stuff called sodium fluoride. That’s like comparing chlorine gas with sodium chloride (salt). If you get those two mixed up there’s a big difference. Elements dramatically change their properties when they become compounds.
“And it was true that fluoride is not very reactive chemically, but it turns out to be extremely reactive biologically. That is the shock; it has the capacity to interfere with all kinds of biological systems and structures, including enzymes, proteins, G-proteins and a whole litany of other things. The last thing you want to swallow into your body is fluoride, it’s a stupid idea.
“But the other thing, and I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist to understand this point, the level of fluoride in mother’s milk, the baby’s first meal, is extremely low, point zero zero four parts per million (0.004ppm) yet we fluoridate water at about 1.000 parts per million.
“This means that a bottle-fed baby in Auckland or anywhere in New Zealand that’s fluoridated, is getting about 200 times more fluoride than nature intended. I think that’s absolutely reckless. I think we’re now paying the price. We’re finding out that if you expose baby in these early days, it’s not just a question of impacting the growing teeth you are also impacting the bay’s growing brain cells, and maybe the endocrine system, maybe their bones. It’s reckless, and countries like New Zealand are not tracking those health effects, they’re not going out and doing studies to check and see if harm is being done. Instead they’re putting more money into promoting fluoridation and propaganda for fluoridation than they are spending to genuinely see if any harm is being caused.
“This is pretty serious when we have – not one IQ study but 37! There are over 40 animal studies that show fluoride can damage the brain, 19 studies on animals that show impact on memory and reaction times. All kinds of neurological tests, fetal brain damage in China with so many abortions – some abortions have been taking place in naturally fluoridated areas and you find damage to the baby’s bones and brain. All this evidence is being ignored or downplayed,” says Connett.
When you actually look at the studies (some of which are reproduced in the book ‘Totalitaria’), suddenly the argument in favour of fluoridating water seems empty, facile and grim:
An Iranian study in 2012 compared children from low fluoride areas with those from medium and high fluoride areas. Look at the massive drop in IQ:
“The mean IQ scores decreased from 97.77±18.91 for the normal fluoride group to 89.03±12.99 for the medium fluoride group and to 88.58±16.01 for the high fluoride group (P=0.001)”[i]
A similar result was found in India:
“The average IQ level of schoolchildren (N = 50) from the low F villages was 97.17, which is significantly higher (p≤0.001) than 92.53 of schoolchildren (N = 34) from the high F villages.”[ii]
Another peer reviewed study in 2013 compared 12 year olds in areas with less than 1.5 parts per million of fluoride in the water, compared to areas above that level. They too found a drop in IQ: “Reduction in intelligence was observed with an increased water fluoride level.”[iii]
Even if fluoridated water did protect against fillings, is it worth dropping your child’s IQ with life-changing consequences?
Connett argues the international studies can be trusted – unlike the Western ones – because the primary study aim is one of public health, not shoring up an investment:
“They don’t have a fluoridation programme to protect, but they do have their children to protect however, and therefore they have every reason to try to find out what the lowest level of fluoride is that causes harm, because after they determine what that level is, they then have to determine what water supply the fluoride has to be removed from and what level it has to be removed down to.
That’s the basis for the research being done in China at the moment – what level can we get away with? Because the more fluoride they have to remove, the more it actually costs them, so they’re actually looking for a safe level. So I don’t think they have any desire to fudge the information.
“Twenty seven of these studies were recently reviewed by a team from Harvard University which included a couple of Chinese researchers and a world famous epidemiologist. Out of 27 studies, 26 showed a lowering of IQ.”
But it went further than just comparing fluoridated areas with non-fluoridated areas. Paul Connett explains that some studies measured actual fluoride in the bodies of participants, just to be sure:
“What 11 of these studies found was a correlation between low IQ and the level of fluoride in the urine. One of the other studies published 2011 showed the lowering of IQ correlated with the level of fluoride in the blood plasma, and that’s the last point before it reaches the brain.”
The International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology says it has weighed up study results like these against studies on the effectiveness of fluoridated water in protecting against tooth decay – just to see if there are genuine benefits to fluoride in the water. Despite the New Zealand High Court endorsement that it “must accept” the science presented by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, the expert review panel wasn’t fooled. The smoking gun, it says, was the 2000 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association:
“The fluoride incorporated into the tooth developmentally – meaning systemically, in the normal tooth mineral — is insufficient to have a measurable effect on acid dissolution.”
“Importantly, this means that fluoride incorporated during tooth mineral development at normal levels of 20 to 100 ppm (even in areas that have fluoridated drinking water or with the use of fluoride supplements) does not measurably alter the solubility of the mineral,” writes the study’s lead author, Featherstone. “Even when the outer enamel has higher fluoride levels, such as 1000 ppm, it does not measurably withstand acid-induced dissolution any better than enamel with lower levels of fluoride.”
In other words, fluoride might “get in”, but it doesn’t actually work.
“New Zealand’s fluoridation programme is like some kind of sacred cow – you can’t talk about it without being insulted,” laments Connett. “The Minister of Health goes on national TV saying opponents of fluoride are misrepresenting – it’s all rubbish.
“After 14 years of investigating, I published a book on this, along with two other scientists, called “The Case Against Fluoride”. The three of us were all retired professors. One was a biologist, one a physicist and I was the chemist. We had plenty of time to look at all the literature and digest it. They were very careful to keep the tone right, we understated rather than overstated, every single argument that we raised we tried to express the caveats, and every argument was documented by references to the scientific literature. In all there are 80 pages of references.
“Shortly after that book was published I was invited to go to the Ministry of Health in Wellington and present the case. Much to our surprise there were about 20 people there, so they were obviously taking this seriously. I went through all the information presented calmly in the book.”
Connett says that – as per normal scientific procedure – he invited the Ministry of Health scientists to peer review the research in the book and come back with a scientific rebuttal – which is how scientific disagreements are conducted and resolved.
“I’m sad to tell you that after three years, they haven’t done it, they have not responded to this book. Instead they continue to promote fluoridation with a religious fervour, quoting a so-called ‘sixty years of science’ to support them. That sixty years of science is lousy science. It’s switched from science to a belief system.”
Connett blames the fluoride evangelisation campaign on the high priests of dentistry in New Zealand.
“I think NZ dentists are true believers. There’s only one dental school in NZ, in Otago, and they are adamantly pro-fluoridation down there. So they only get one side of the story at dental school. Once they’re out in the community treating patients they’re too busy to keep reading literature on the fluoridation debate, so they are left taking the word of the professional bodies which do have reputations and liabilities to protect. In the United States the American Dental Association has its name associated with all the fluoridated products that people use, so if fluoridation does go down one day there could be some serious liabilities arising from those endorsements.
“What scientific evidence do they marshall to demonstrate that fluoridation is effective, that it is safe, and that it is ethically sound to override the citizens who don’t want to be forced to swallow it?
“What do they say about 97 % of Europe where water is not fluoridated yet their rates of tooth decay are as good or even better than ours?”
What they say, evidently, is believed and taken at face value by the Courts, and used as the basis for rolling out a national fluoridation campaign. If the State decides it’s good for you, you and your kids will be forced to take the medicine unless you spent $500 per drinking tap in your house to install filters capable of removing fluoride.
Roll on Nanny State.
[i] “Effect of High Water Fluoride Concentration on the Intellectual Development of Children in Makoo/Iran”, B. Seraj et al, Journal of Dentistry (Tehran). 2012 Summer; 9(3): 221–229. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3484826/
[ii] “Fluoride contamination of groundwater and its impact on IQ of schoolchildren in Mundra, Gujarat, India”, Trivedi et al, Fluoride 45(4)377–383 October-December 2012, http://fluoridealert.org/uploads/trivedi-2012.pdf
[iii] “Effect of fluoride exposure on the intelligence of school children”, Saxena et al, J Neurosci Rural Pract. 2012 May-Aug; 3(2): 144–149. doi: 10.4103/0976-3147.98213, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3409983/