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Bottled Water and the Fluoride Debate

The issue of bottled water in connection with caries was recently raised at the World Dental Congress in Montreal, as part of a general discussion about what to do about the sudden rise in tooth decay in children.

"It's not the water that's causing the decay," said Jack Cottrell, D.D.S., president of the Canadian Dental Association (CDA). "It's the lack of fluoride."

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) fluoridation of community drinking water is a major factor responsible for the decline in dental caries (tooth decay) during the second half of the 20th century. But the practice is coming under mounting criticism.

Water fluoridation is a peculiarly American phenomenon but practiced in other countries. It started at a time when Asbestos lined our pipes, lead was added to gasoline, PCBs filled our transformers and DDT was deemed so "safe and effective" that officials felt no qualms spraying kids in school classrooms. One by one all these chemicals have been banned, but fluoridation remains untouched.

There is a growing opposition to fluoridation of drinking water and 98% of western Europe has rejected water fluoridation. This includes: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the majority of the United Kingdom.

Recently, two members of the Fluoride Action Network -- Michael Connett and Chris Neurath -- traveled to Gothenburg, Sweden, to interview Dr. Arvid Carlsson, a famed pharmacologist at Gothenburg University and recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine/Physiology.

Water Fluoridation is obsolete, according to Nobel Prize Scientist Dr. Arvid Carlsson.

In the 1970s, Dr. Carlsson was an outspoken opponent of two failed attempts to fluoridate water supplies in Sweden. Thanks in large part to his efforts, Sweden remains fluoridation free. As Carlsson notes, "nobody talks about [fluoridation] anymore" in Sweden.

As with the vast majority of western Europe, Sweden has rejected water fluoridation, but has still experienced the same decline in tooth decay as experienced in heavily fluoridated countries such as the United States.

Excerpts of Interview with Dr. Arvid Carlsson, October 4, 2005

Q: So, what happened in Sweden. The fluoridation issue was proposed...

A: Yes, I think it was up twice... The second time, there was a proposal that the Swedish Parliament should allow addition of fluorine to the water supplies in Sweden and I became rather active as I had been the first time, and I think I was perhaps the one who more than anyone else convinced the Swedish parliament that this was not a good thing. So, it was voted out, this proposal. And that was around 1980. So you can see it's a long time ago. And after that addition of fluorine to water supplies in Sweden has not been an issue anymore. These days nobody talks about it anymore.

Q: Do you think that your background in pharmacology sort of informed your view of fluoridation as a medical practice?

A: Of course. I mean, as I said before, this is against all principles of modern pharmacology. It's really obsolete. No doubt about that. I mean, I think those nations that are using it should feel ashamed of themselves. It's against science. Anti-scientific. Fluorine has a protecting action against caries, but this is a local effect. If you drink it, you are running the risk of all kinds of toxic actions. And, of course, there are such actions. We have the mottled teeth, which is not a small thing... There is no need, really, to go any further into all these other toxicity problems because I think the mottled teeth is enough. This is something you shouldn't expose citizens to.

Q: In the United States, the dental community says that dental fluorosis is just a cosmetic effect, it's just spots on the teeth. Do you see mottled teeth as a toxic effect of fluoride, or as simply a cosmetic effect?

A: Well, it is a toxic effect and a cosmetic effect. These are not mutually exclusive. It's toxic and it's cosmetic.

Q: What about this notion of using the water supply as a vehicle of delivering medication? Can you speak to what you see as the problems with that?

A: Yea, it's absolutely obsolete. In modern pharmacology it's so clear that even if you have a fixed dose of a drug, the individuals respond very differently to one and the same dose. Now, in this case, you have it in the water and people are drinking different amounts of water. So you have huge variations in the consumption of this drug. So, it's against all modern principles of pharmacology. It's so obsolete, I don't think anybody in Sweden, not a single dentist, would bring up this question in Sweden anymore.

Q: You mentioned that fluoride's benefits come from the local, or topical, effect. Could you just discuss a little more what you see as the significance of that fact? Why is it important that fluoride's benefit is topical, and not from ingestion?

A: Well, in pharmacology, if the effect is local, it's of course absolutely awkward to use it in any other way than as a local treatment. I mean this is so obvious. You have the teeth there, they're available for you, why drink the stuff?... I see no reason at all for giving it in any other way than locally -- topically, if you wish.

Q: In the US, the Centers for Disease Control, which is a US government health body, has proclaimed water fluoridation to be one of the top ten public health achievements of the twentieth century.

A: I disagree profoundly.

For more information on the subject of Fluoride visit the Fluoride Action Network which has the primary goals of educating the public on the toxicity of fluoride compounds and the health impacts of current fluoride exposures.

The CDC declared “Fluoridation of Drinking Water to Prevent Dental Caries” as an “Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999”