For years, Americans have been told that fluoride is a powerful defense against the development of dental cavities. But there are many health professionals and non-professionals who don’t share the same belief, particularly when it comes to fluoridated municipal water supplies. And now, recent findings in India are casting doubts about the safety of fluoride.
In certain regions of rural India, there have been an unusual number of cases of skeletal fluorosis, a crippling bone condition that is the result of excess fluoride content in drinking water. Recently, The Times of India reported that the “high fluoride content in water and vitamin A deficiencies is ruining the lives of children” in this specific area.
According to Dr. Mercola, a controversial alternative health practitioner, as of 1999, 17 of India’s 32 states and territories were known to have high concentrations of fluoride in water, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with concentrations as high as 48 mg/liter reported. For comparison, WHO has capped the upper limit of fluoride in drinking water at 1.5 mg/liter.
Debating the issue of fluoride in the water is not a simple black and white answer. Fluoride has been shown to prevent the onset of dental decay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. And organizations like the WHO, American Public Health Association, European Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and the national dental associations of Australia, Canada and the U.S. all endorse water fluoridation.
Moreover, since the water supply in these regions in rural India are far from clean, and the fluoride amounts in the Indian water supply are clearly much greater than what is recommended, it is uncertain whether the high incidences of skeletal fluorosis have to do with the singular variables of the high fluoride content, the potability of the water, the health status of the child or a combination of all of these factors operating collectively.
Fortunately, the U.S. adheres to regulated standards of flouride concentrations in the water supply. And while countries like the Netherlands, Germany, France and Sweden no longer have flouridated water, they have incorporated the mineral into alternative bases like table salt or milk.
That being said, American activist and consumer advocate Ralph Nader questions how much fluoride people are taking into their bodies from fluoride air pollution, soil, water, pharmaceuticals, products processed in fluoridated water, pesticides, and herbicides.
He, like many others, encourages people to lead a healthy lifestyle, one that avoids or severely limits the amount of sugary drinks, processed foods, and sweets we consume. And while Americans’ bones, teeth and gums may look very different than that of rural Indian communities, perhaps cases like these can encourage international health researchers and politicians to examine more closely the effects of public health initiatives, and more importantly, the successful and safe implementation of them.