Author Message

Don't Let the Poisonmongers Scare You!

Bob Sprague
Mary Bernhardt
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in most water supplies.
Fluoridation is the adjustment of the natural fluoride concentration to
about one part of fluoride to one million parts of water. Although
fluoridation is safe and effective in preventing tooth decay, the scare
tactics of misguided poisonmongers have deprived many communities of its
The history of fluoridation in the United States underlines its unique
standing as a public health measure copied from a natural phenomenon. In the
early 1900s, Dr. Frederick S. McKay began an almost 30-year search for the
cause of the staining of teeth that was prevalent in Colorado, where he
practiced dentistry. In his investigation, McKay found the condition common
in other states, including Texas, where it was known as "Texas teeth." In
1928, he concluded that such teeth, although stained, showed "a singular
absence of decay," and that both the staining and the decay resistance were
caused by something in the water. In 1931, the "something" was identified as
The Public Health Service then took over to determine precisely what amount
of fluoride in the water would prevent decay without causing staining. Years
of "shoeleather epidemiology" by Dr. H. Trendley Dean traced the dental
status of 7,000 children who drank naturally fluoridated water in 21 cities
in four states. In 1943, he reported that the ideal amount of fluoride was
one part per million parts of water. This concentration was demonstrated to
result in healthy, attractive teeth that had one-third as many cavities as
might otherwise be expected -- and no staining.
The next step was to determine whether water engineering could copy nature's
amazing dental health benefit. At several test sites, the fluoride
concentration of the public water supply was adjusted to one part per
One such test was conducted in the neighboring cities of Newburgh and
Kingston, New York. First, the children in both cities were examined by
dentists and physicians; then fluoride was added to Newburgh's water supply.
After ten years, the children of Newburgh had 58% fewer decayed teeth than
those of nonfluoridated Kingston. The greatest benefits were obtained by
children who had drunk the fluoridated water since birth. Other studies
showed that teeth made stronger by fluoride during childhood would remain
permanently resistant to decay. As the evidence supporting fluoridation
accrued, thousands of communities acted to obtain its benefits.
Too much fluoride can cause dental fluorosis, which, in its mildest form,
causes small, white, virtually invisible opaque areas on teeth. In severe
form, fluorosis results in brownish mottling. However, dental fluorosis is
not caused by artificial fluoridation, because the levels are kept low
enough to avoid this effect.
Recent data have shown that fluoridation has been reducing the incidence of
cavities 20% to 40% in children and 15% to 35% in {*filter*}s. The reduction is
less than it used to be, probably due to improved dental hygiene and
widespread use of fluoride toothpaste. Currently, more than 140 million
Americans live in fluoridated communities. But 80 million others receive
public water supplies that are not fluoridated -- thanks largely to the
efforts of poisonmongers.
How Poisonmongers Work
The antifluoridationists' ("antis") basic technique is the big lie. Made
infamous by Hitler, it is simple to use, yet surprisingly effective. It
consists of claiming that fluoridation causes cancer, heart and kidney
disease, and other serious ailments that people fear. The fact that there is
no supporting evidence for such claims does not matter. The trick is to keep
repeating them -- because if something is said often enough, people tend to
think there must be some truth to it.
A variation of the big lie is the laundry list. List enough "evils," and
even if proponents can reply to some of them, they will never be able to
cover the entire list. This technique is most effective in debates, letters
to the editor, and television news reports. Another variation is the simple
statement that fluoridation doesn't work. Although recent studies show less
difference than there used to be in decay rates between fluoridated and
nonfluoridated communities, the benefit is still substantial. In fact, the
Public Health Service estimates that every dollar spent for community
fluoridation saves about fifty dollars in dental bills.
A key factor in any anti campaign is the use of printed matter. Because of
this, antis are very eager to have their views printed. Scientific journals
will rarely publish them, but most local newspapers are willing to express
minority viewpoints regardless of whether facts support them. A few editors
even welcome the controversy the antis generate -- expecting that it will
increase readership.
The aim of anti "documents" is to create the illusion of scientific
controversy. Often they quote statements that are out of date or out of
context. Quotes from obscure or hard-to-locate journals are often used.
Another favored tactic is to misquote a profluoridation scientist, knowing
that even if the scientist protests, the reply will not reach all those who
read the original misquote.
Half-truths are commonly used. For example, saying that fluoride is a rat
poison ignores the fact that poison is a matter of dose. Large amounts of
many substances -- even pure water -- can poison people. But the trace
amount of fluoride contained in fluoridated water will not harm anyone.
"Experts" are commonly quoted. It is possible to find someone with
scientific credentials who is against just about anything. Most "experts"
who speak out against fluoridation, however, are not experts on the subject.
There are, of course, a few dentists and physicians who oppose fluoridation.
Some of them object to fluoridation as a form of government intrusion, even
though they know it is safe and effective.
Innuendo is a technique that has broad appeal because it can be used in a
seemingly unemotional pitch. Some antis admit that fluoridation has been
found safe "so far," but claim that its long-range effects have "not yet"
been fully explored. The waiting game is a related gambit in which antis
suggest that waiting a bit longer will help to resolve "doubt" about
fluoridation's safety. No doubt, some antis will continue to use this
argument for a few hundred more years.
A few antis have offered a "reward" for proving that fluoridation is safe.
During the 1970s, a $100,000 offer required the pros to post a bond "to
cover any costs which the offerers of the reward might incur if the proof is
deemed invalid." The offer did not state who would judge the evidence, but
it was safe to assume that the antis themselves would have appointed the
judges. If a suit had been filed to collect the reward, the court might have
ruled that the offer was a {*filter*} bet that should not be enforced by a
court. Such a suit would have required at least $25,000 for the bond and
legal fees. Even if it had been won, however, there was no assurance that
the money would have been recovered from the individuals who sponsored the
reward. Most of them were elderly and scattered widely throughout the United
States and Canada. A woman who runs an antifluoridation Web site has issued
two versions of a $100,000 reward. Initially, she promised the money for
directing her to "any published scientific articles demonstrating the safety
of our current fluoride intake or any studies which indicate that
researchers used methods capable of detecting cases of chronic fluoride
poisoning -- but failed to find them -- in any fluoridated U.S. cities in
the past." The current version is for "any studies which indicate that
researchers used methods capable of detecting cases of chronic fluoride
poisoning in any U.S. city in the past -- but failed to find them." The
offer does not state how any response would be judged or who would make the
judgment. The Web site has carried a plea for help in defraying the $19.95
per month it cost to maintain it.
Since the scientific community is so solidly in favor of fluoridation, antis
try to discredit it entirely by use of the {*filter*} gambit. The beauty of
the {*filter*} charge is that it can be leveled at anyone and there is
absolutely no way to disprove it. After all, how does one prove that
something is not taking place secretly? Favorite "conspirators" are the U.S.
Public Health Service, the American Dental Association, the American Medical
Association, and the aluminum industry. Apparently, in the minds of the
antis, these groups could all be working together to "poison" the American
people! Years ago, {*filter*} claims would work primarily with the very
paranoid. But modern-day government scandals may make them seem realistic to
a wider audience.
The "slippery slope" claim is a related gambit. "This is only the
beginning!" the antis wail. "First they will add fluoride, then vitamin
pills, and the next thing you know it will be birth control pills!" Who
"they" are need not be specified.
Scare words will add zip to any anti campaign. Not only the more obvious
ones like "cancer" and "heart disease," but also more specialized terms like
"mongoloid births" and "sickle-cell anemia." Ecology words are also useful.
Calling fluoride a "chemical" (rather than a nutrient) can strike fear in
the minds of many Americans who fear we are already too "chemicalized." The
fact that water itself is a chemical and the fact that responsible use of
chemicals is extremely helpful to our society will not reassure everyone.
Fluoride is also called "artificial" and "a pollutant," which is "against
nature." Faced with the fact that fluoridation merely copies a natural
phenomenon, the antis reply that "natural" fluoride differs from
"artificial" fluoride -- a "fact" as yet undiscovered by scientists.
Suggesting alternatives is a common ...

read more »

Sat, 11 Oct 2003 08:29:02 GMT


> Fluoridation:
> Don't Let the Poisonmongers Scare You!

Nonsense becomes not true by posting it again and again!


Barrett retired from his psychiatric practice in 1993 to devote himself
full time to quackbusting. Along the way, he honed his communication
skills and now considers himself an investigative journalist taking full
advantage of the power of the Internet. "Twenty years ago, I had trouble
getting my ideas through to the media," he says. "Today I am the

At least he seems to know where to get his info  ;-)), and knows where
to publish what nobody else would want to.

Sun, 12 Oct 2003 01:18:32 GMT
 [ 2 post ] 

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