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Fluoride: Friend Or Foe?

October 21, 2010

Fluoride Opponent Says Chemical Is Harmful To Our Health
By Stephany Fisher, CBS Atlanta Anchor

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ATLANTA — It’s in the tap water we drink and many of the foods we eat.

For decades, we’ve been told that it helps fight cavities, but there are critics who say this chemical is doing more harm than good.

“I’ve worked with a lot of dangerous things in my career. I don’t get real worked up over chemicals or I could have never done my job — this one scares me,” said Daniel Stockin, a health advocate whose background includes toxics assessment.

What could it be? Arsenic? Lead?

No, it’s fluoride — the kind you brush your teeth with, and the kind that’s been added to Atlanta’s city water supply since 1969. Every public water district in Georgia is required by law to do so.

“When we started to fluoridate 50-plus years ago, water was the only source for the fluoride, then they really quickly said hey, let’s put it in toothpaste, and then it started to show up in the foods made with fluoridated water,” Stockin said.

Stockin became concerned about fluoride in 2004 and helped start The Lillie Center — a public health training firm that is now working to end fluoridation.

For the last five years, Stockin and his partners have spent nearly all of their time and money spreading the word about fluoride and its potential negative health effects, one of which is dental fluorosis.

Dental fluorosis is caused by ingesting too much fluoride from various sources, as the teeth are being formed.

In mild cases, it appears as white or brown stains on the teeth. In more severe forms, it can include indentions or pitting of the teeth. The damage is irreversible.

“A lot of folks think it’s just ‘Oh, I have bad hygiene or I’ve got cavities,’ and they have no idea that these stains and these pits are actually caused by the fluorides they’ve ingested,” Stockin said.

Atlanta chiropractor Hamilton Wetzel is one of the many Americans diagnosed with a mild case of dental fluorosis.

“There are some distinct white marks across there and a couple brown spots as well,” Wetzel described.

Now he wants to make sure his baby daughter, Willow and the new baby due in April, don’t suffer the same consequences.

“Hopefully they don’t have the staining on their teeth, hopefully they don’t have the health effects that I had,” Wetzel said.

Stockin invited Wetzel to participate in the Lillie Center’s latest project — a campaign to educate the community on the potential side effects of of ingesting fluoride.

“If you listen on TV today to these ads for drugs and they have 30 seconds or so of side effects that they’re required by law to talk about, but for some reason, people haven’t been told the side effects of fluorides,” Stockin said.

Stockin claims the effects of fluoride reach far beyond our teeth. He says our bodies retain about half of the fluoride we ingest and that it accumulates over time.

“If fluorides do this to teeth, which are the hardest surfaces in your body, what do we think they’re doing to our soft tissues,” posed Stockin.

The American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control have endorsed water fluoridation since 1950 and while they admit that fluoride can be toxic in excessive quantities, the ADA maintains that at optimal levels, water fluoridation is a safe and effective way to prevent dental decay.

But, when we tried to ask the tough questions, the CDC and State Dental Director Elizabeth Lense, denied our requests for interviews.

We were instead referred to the CDC’s Web site and the American Dental Association’s “Fluoridation Facts” — an article that was last reviewed in 2005.

Stockin says much of that information is outdated, and some of it is just plain wrong.

“It’s bad science, it’s outdated science,” Stockin said.

In fact, Stockin and other experts say fluoride doesn’t need to be ingested at all, that it works best when applied directly to the teeth, via toothpaste or mouth rinse.

“If I went to a doctor and said I have issues with sunburn and he said, ‘Here’s some sunblock for you, drink this to prevent sunburn,’ what would I say? I’d say, ‘that makes no sense,'” Stockin said.

Not a new argument, but more and more communities are beginning to jump on the anti-fluoridation bandwagon, such as Corning, N.Y., Bellingham, Wash. and Juneau, Alaska. Voters in each of those cities rejected the addition of fluoride to their water supplies.

Meanwhile, Atlantans continue to drink fluoridated water, as mandated by the state and many have tough questions for the people who made that choice for them.

“Why are they doing it after there’s been a lot more research coming out that shows that it’s not necessary,” Wetzel said.

Stockin added, “If people insist on fluorides, let them buy fluoridated toothpaste and spit it out rather than all of us ingesting this thing and then having to deal with the health consequences of that?”

Stockin says there’s a lot of new information that hasn’t been widely publicized, including the fact that the CDC is now encouraging parents to use low-fluoride or non-fluoridated water to mix with baby formula.

The National Research Council says infants and babies ingest three to four times the amount of fluorides as adults on a body weight basis, which can lead to an increased risk of dental fluorosis.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies don’t need fluoride during the first six months because they don’t have teeth.

If you’d like more information on the Lillie Center’s dental fluorosis project, click here. And if you have been diagnosed with dental fluorosis, CBS Atlanta would like to hear from you. Email your story to news@cbsatlanta.com.

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