By Linda Joy, MSW
For the last 60 years, we’ve been assured that the addition of fluoride to our public water supplies is a safe and effective means of reducing dental decay. But is it really safe and effective? Or does fluoride pose health risks not only for us, but for our dogs? Although health officials insist that fluoride is safe, the reality is that politics often trump science when public policy is made. Therefore, with fluoride, as with all toxic chemicals, it is wise to investigate as much as you can and decide for yourself. To begin, consider the following questions along with their often surprising answers:
What is the actual fluoride chemical added to our water?
Hydrofluorosilicic acid is the chemical put in the vast majority of U.S. water supplies. It is not pharmaceutical grade, it is removed from the pollution scrubbers of phosphate fertilizer plants and contains contaminants of lead, arsenic and radium. This toxic industrial waste – which would be costly for the fertilizer industry to dispose of properly – is sold to water districts and is more toxic than lead.
Are there any health risks from fluoride for people and pets?
While the public has been assured of its safety, in actuality, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has acknowledged that no chronic health studies have been done on this fluoride chemical. In March of 2006, The National Research Council (NRC) completed a three year review of the peer-reviewed research on fluoride. Numerous adverse health risks were cited such as disruption of the nervous and endocrine systems (including the brain and thyroid), bone fractures, and joint pain. A recently published Harvard study concluded that there was a seven-fold risk in osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, among young boys after exposure to fluoridated water. This study may have implication for dogs, since osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, is the most common bone tumor diagnosed in dogs in the U.S.
Dogs have a significantly higher rate of osteosarcoma than humans. Researchers at Colorado State University recently conducted a large study on osteosarcoma and dogs. In their abstract they state that the osteosarcoma rate in dogs is 8 in 100,000, approximately 8 times greater than that in humans. Their findings haven’t yet been published, and their research will be the first epidemiological study of the effects of fluoride on dogs. More research on fluoride’s impact on dogs and cats needs to be conducted to rule out, or determine, adverse health effects.
Is bathing and swimming in fluoridated water harmful for us or our dogs?
Fluoride in highly acidic water does enter the skin, although it is unclear whether neutral acidity, typical of most tap water, can do the same thing. However, since some studies indicate that fluoride can be absorbed through the skin, more research needs to be done in this area.
Since people and their dogs drink various amounts of fluoridated water, and many foods contain fluoride, how can the fluoride dose be controlled?
Simply – it can’t! Water is usually fluoridated at 1 part per million (1 ppm) to provide 1 mg of fluoride per liter of water. However, dogs and their humans who drink more than the average amount of this water will ingest higher levels of fluoride and be more susceptible to its toxic effects. There is no way of controlling the dose, which means fluoridation contradicts sound pharmacological principles. It is medically irresponsible and unethical to administer to everyone – without informed consent – the same medication without first determining individual need.
In addition, the fluoride content in processed foods and beverages adds to the total fluoride intake in both humans and their companion animals. People ingest fluoride from many common cereals, sodas, juices, etc., and fluoride is found in pesticide residues as well. As a result of this overexposure, in 2005 the Centers for Disease Control reported that 32% of U.S. children now have some form of dental fluorosis (permanent scarring of the teeth) due to ingesting too much fluoride.
Research indicates that pet foods can contain high levels of fluoride; a low fluoride commercial dog food can contain 40-60 parts per million of fluoride and a high fluoride dog food can have 460 parts per million or more of fluoride! However, little systematic research has been done regarding the fluoride content of pet food. With potentially high levels of fluoride (sometimes called fluorine) consumed by dogs, is it possible – as in people – that symptoms of arthritis, spinal abnormalities, etc. in dogs could actually be skeletal fluorosis (over-accumulation of fluoride in the bone)? The stages of skeletal fluorosis range from joint pain, muscle weakness and changes in the pelvis and spinal column to osteoporosis and to a crippling condition of the joints and vertebrae. Unfortunately, veterinarians typically aren’t aware that the fluoride content in pet foods could be very high and potentially impacting a pet’s health.
Is fluoridation effective? Are there benefits which outweigh the risks?
There is now agreement among dental researchers that any benefit of fluoride in fighting tooth decay comes from direct application to teeth, not from ingestion. The “effectiveness” of fluoridation is more myth than science. Most European countries are not fluoridated, yet World Health Organization statistics show that European dental decay rates have gone down as much as those in the U.S. In addition, major U.S. cities such as Seattle, Chicago, Cincinnati and Boston have been fluoridating for decades, yet they all are reporting rampant tooth decay among children. Adequate dental care and a nutritious diet are critical in reducing tooth decay, and both are absent in the low-income populations of these cities.
What are some recent developments around this issue?
Dr. Hardy Limeback, one of the scientists on the prestigious panel of the National Research Council that reviewed fluoride’s toxicity, has said that their report is highly relevant to the policy of fluoridation. Dr. Limeback has stated, “the evidence that fluoridation is more harmful than beneficial is now overwhelming.”
On August 19, 2005, 11 U.S. EPA Unions, representing over 7000 professional employees, called for a nationwide moratorium on fluoridation and also a congressional investigation of this policy.
In June, 2005, scientists at the Environmental Working Group asked the National Institutes of Health to list fluoride in tap water as a carcinogen.
The Fluoride Deception , published by Christopher Bryson in 2004, exposes the sordid history of fluoridation. Bryson discusses how industry and the military worked behind the scenes to bury or alter studies indicating fluoride’s toxic effects.
In 2001, Dr. J. William Hirzy, Senior Vice-President, Headquarters Union, spoke to the US EPA on behalf of his union. He said, “In summary, we hold that fluoridation is an unreasonable risk. That is, the toxicity of fluoride is so great and the purported benefits associated with it are so small – if there are any at all – that requiring every man, woman and child in America to ingest it borders on criminal behavior on the part of governments.”
How can we and our pets avoid fluoride exposure?
First and foremost, avoid drinking fluoridated water! One way to do this is by removing fluoride from all drinking water and cooking water, using systems like reverse osmosis, ion-exchange, or distillation. Be aware that common charcoal filters do not remove fluoride. Another option is to buy bottled water (check the ingredients for fluoride!) for your family and pets.
If you have an infant, do not use fluoridated water to make formula since this would give the baby a very high dose of fluoride. Infant formula reconstituted with fluoridated water gives the baby 250 times more fluoride than occurs naturally in breast milk! Children under 3 should not be exposed to more than one glass of fluoridated water daily, although it is best to avoid fluoride altogether.
Your dogs and other pets also need to be protected from high fluoride levels in their food. If you feed your dog or cat commercial pet food, call the companies and ask for the fluoride content. (Unfortunately this is difficult to determine since companies usually don’t test for fluoride.) Try to avoid commercial pet food (or people food) that uses mechanically de-boned chicken since it contains high fluoride levels due to incorporated bone particles, in addition to other ingredients that contain fluoride.
What can we do to help bring about an end to this harmful policy of fluoridation?
The best thing you can do is educate yourself about fluoride and its risks and then share this information with others. The website with the most comprehensive information on fluoride is www.fluoridealert.org . The vast majority of people still believe the myth that fluoride is “safe and effective,” and by educating others you can help bring about much-needed change in this perception. Fluoride’s documented health risks make it imperative to invoke the Precautionary Principle, which in the case of fluoridation translates into: when in doubt, leave it out!
Epidemiology . 15(4):S83, July 2004, Water Fluoridation and Canine Osteosarcoma
Linda Joy belongs to WA Action for Safe Water (WASW). WASW educates the community on the current science regarding fluoride’s toxicity, health risks, and effectiveness. For information, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org,