Great, Now Even My Toothpaste is Killing Me? [The Furor Over Fluoride]

by Charlotte on January 13, 2014 · 38 comments

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What was the last thing you did right before climbing into bed? If you’re like me, you brushed your teeth, just like your mama always told you. And then if you’re still like me, you play a few games on your phone. And then maybe check Facebook one last time. And then start completely freaking out because one of my friends commented on my post about food dyes that I also need to check my kids’ toothpaste because they often contain dye ohandbytheway fluoride is a neurotoxin. Goodnight! Sleep tight! Try not to think about how, at least according to some people, that little nightly ritual of scrubbing your teeth with toxic, neon-gel paste and then rinsing it off with toxin-laced city water is lulling you to sleep with dreams of cancerous tumors dancing through your head. Or if not death, at the very least that fluoride bath will make you stupider (ha!), to the tune of about seven IQ points.

According to a 2012 Harvard meta-analysis of 50 years’ worth of fluoridation studies, kids with more exposure to fluoride were dumber than kids with less exposure – about seven IQ points worth of dumb. While the study has since been refuted by many – the main criticism being that the studies looked at children in China and India who were drinking water contaminated with fluoride from pesticides thereby exposing them to much higher levels and a different type of the stuff than what we have in our drinking water and is therefore not an apt comparison – there remains a general distrust of the compound. (Note: Fluoride is not flourine – the squirrely gas also known as the ninth element. Fluoride is fluorine combined with something else, most often with sodium.) So much so that Portland, Oregon, voted in 2013 to stop fluoridating the city’s water supply- the first major city to do so since the US began force-fluoridating people in the 50′s.

But what’s seven IQ points in the face of one of the greatest public health coups in American history? The official stance of the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Dental Association and the American Cancer Society is that not only is fluoridated water safe but it’s reduced cavities – particularly in vulnerable children – significantly and has thereby improved the public health. They reassure – in so many articles that my I began to worry that reading press releases might be a neurotoxin – that fluoride in water and toothpaste doesn’t cause cancer, bone loss or Adam Sandler movies.

So are seven IQ points worth healthier teeth? I tried Googling it but alas no one could tell me what difference seven IQ points would make in my life. Seriously, if it would mean that I would no longer get lost driving out of my neighborhood then I’ll take spacial acuity over no cavities any day! But if it just means the distance between Perez Hilton and The Daily Mail then perhaps we’d all be better off with chompers that can take us through old age. Plus, if you feel like playing IQ math, you can add seven points to your IQ by playing an instrument, four points if your mom breast-fed you and – thank your lucky salts – 15 IQ points by eating iodized salt! (Should I point out here that women lose an average of 10 IQ points when we have kids?)

So who’s right? The same big government who told us that fat-free milk was the answer to our diet woes or the crunchy all-natural folks who wash their hair with bar soap?

Optimistic view: All the people, especially the poor ones without regular access to dental care, have 68% fewer cavities! We’re literally giving people health care through their water line!

Cynical view: The government is drugging us all into complacent stupidity while placating us with marginally whiter smiles. Shiny objects for the win. Again.

Either way fluoride has had a very fraught history. Which, for some reason I can’t explain, I’ve never known about before! I don’t know if I just tuned out the controversy like I do with pretty much any conversation that starts with you can’t be too safe! or if I heard about it and it didn’t sink in but apparently this is one of those health things that is a Really Big Deal. Growing up, I remember the fluoride cart at my school. Every week, at the same time, a nurse would wheel a dolly filled with trays with little cups of bright pink liquid that all of us kids were then instructed to swish around our mouths for 30 seconds – she timed us on her stopwatch! – and then spit back into the cup and return it to the cart.

This impressed me for two reasons: First, I hated the smell and mouthfeel of the fluoride wash so so much and second, Paul, the kid who sat next to me was forbidden from participating in the fluoride ritual because he had a note. This both made me jealous and kind of repulsed me, as I imagined his teeth rotting and falling out of his head one by one. Although Paul may have won that round because I actually ended up with fluoridosis – streaks and brown spots on the teeth from, oh yes, too much fluoride in my youth. I discovered this in my 20′s when I went to my dentist to try professionally whitening my teeth that are the precise size and shade of corn niblets, only to be told that no product on the market could fix my teeth. And now I mostly just smile with my lips closed. Sigh.

I’ve always been obedient. Oh sure I pretended to be a rebel for a few years in my teens – demonstrated by doing idiotic things like riding motorcycles with no helmet and making out with boys I didn’t like at all – but deep down I like rules and even more I like following rules, especially ones back by science. So things like “brush your teeth twice a day” and “drink fluoridated water” became like gospel to me. I did them and I never questioned them. Up until today.

Now I have so many questions: how much fluoride are we really absorbing through our mouth when we brush and spit? What type of fluoride is being added to my water and does it really matter? (Some is derived from industrial pesticide waste while others are salts.) How much is too much? Why have my kids never been delivered pink cups on a metal dolly? There is a lot of research on this subject. Lots and LOTS. And I feel like I should cite more of it here. But for every US study that says fluoride is fab, there’s a European one that says fluoride is the devil and there’s a reason none of them use it. Back and forth, back and forth. I’ve been reading about it all weekend and I still can’t come to a clear consensus.  is there anyone in this fight that is actually unbiased? ANYONE? BUELLER?!?

My main concern, after reading everything the Google gods have to offer on the subject (which is both tremendous and dispiriting), is the connection between fluoridation and thyroid problems. At this point, we felt compelled to investigate further. According to two doctors who wrote a book about thyroid problems, “After reviewing hundreds of articles and books, it became clear that, regardless of any other benefits and side effects, fluoride could indeed be considered a “hormone disruptor.” These are a class of chemicals from many unrelated sources, that have the unintended consequence of altering the proper function of important hormones in the body, such as thyroid.”

The doctors added, “Contradicting the hoped-for scenario is research going back half a century. For instance, we came across a 1958 study by Galletti and Joyet, published in the prestigious Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The paper was titled, “Effect of Fluorine on Thyroidal Iodine Metabolism and Hyperthyroidism.” These scientists showed that fluoride in the range of 2-5 mg. per day (what people now ingest in a fluoridated area) was enough to slow down thyroid function.”

I’ve long had a hinky thyroid and now I’m wondering if fluoridation plays a part in that?

And yet today I drank my many glasses of tap water and brushed my teeth with fluoride toothpaste (oh and I use the kind with the extra extra fluoride in it to help with my teeth sensitivity and recession) – but I did it with a great sense of unease. The toothpaste would be relatively easy to fix – Tom’s of Maine makes a popular paste with no fluoride or other additives – but the tap water? According to most sources, the only way to get fluoride out is reverse osmosis, a pricey process that I can’t afford. Or I could buy special reverse-osmosis bottled drinking water I guess.

What do you think about fluoride – public health miracle or menace? Do you try to avoid it or do you think it’s generally safe at the levels being used in most places? What kind of toothpaste do you use?? Anyone want to tell me what they’d use 7 extra IQ points for??

 

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Darwin January 13, 2014 at 1:43 am

Would I personally be surprised by (any level) of governments lack of “thinking things through”?

Nope.

Would I personally believe that they would go out of their way to admit any mistake/lapse in judgement/deliberate deception?

Nope.

A great many people in positions of public trust have their moral compass stuck stubbornly on “cover thy butt”.

Do I think that they think that they NEED fluoride in the water supply to cause us to lose IQ points to help them dupe us into thinking they always have our best interests at heart?

Yes.

But its not working.

To quote Santa: “I am as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.” (name the movie) and in that time I have had…all of those many years…lived with fluoride in the water supply.

I know that I personally do not have thyroid issues…because I get that tested in my annual check-up.

BUT…

…I also know that some days it seems that an extra 7 IQ points would bring me up to a total of 5.

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Lydia January 13, 2014 at 2:37 am

In the UK our water is treated, as is our toothpaste. It isn’t an issue. It sounds like a conspiracy theory where they’ve got hold of one idea ‘flourine is bad’ and extrapolated it down.

Find a toothpaste without the dye you worry about for your son, then try not to worry about the water :)

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jwillie6 January 13, 2014 at 11:57 pm

The toxic waste fluoride (Hexafluorosilicic Acid) taken from the pollution scrubbers of industry carries cadmium, lead, uranium, arsenic and other heavy metals into drinking water.. Cities actually pay money for this toxic waste and that has to be one of the biggest con jobs in history. The question that comes to mind, is why are we now importing this toxic waste from China and other countries?

Hospitals have learned that when treating patients for kidney dialysis, that patients would die if using fluoridated water, so pure water is required for this treatment. Governments around the world were made aware of this, yet they still allow cities to use it in their water supplies. Go figure!?

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Motorina January 13, 2014 at 3:28 am

As Lydia says, all mainstream toothpastes in the UK are fluoridated. In fact, recommended level is slightly higher in the UK. (1450ppm for adults in the UK; I think 1100ppm in the US but don’t quote me on the latter, as I don’t keep up with the US figures.) Current UK public policy is geared at increasing fluoride exposure – google “Delivering Better Oral Health” for the current guidance if you’re really interested.

Toothpaste in mainland Europe is also fluoridated, so I don’t know where the Europeans don’t use fluoride message is coming from. (Most UK water is not fluoridated, however, so the kids most in need of the fluoride are the ones who may not get it. And the reason it isn’t is pressure from the “flourine is bad” lobby.)

When balancing risks/benefits its worth remembering that decay, particularly in kids, is not a risk-free experience. I routinely see children whose schooling is significantly compromised due to chronic dental pain and infection. Noone thinks well in pain, and a kid who’s been up all night screaming will likely not be in school the next day. Developmental and educational delay following years of pain and infection? Yep, seen that, too. Then factor in the risk/distress of the general anaesthetic or sedation to take out the offending teeth. And the social implications of a mouthful of blackened stumps or wearing a denture in your teens; I suspect the bullying which follows has more of an impact on educational attainment than the fluoride might.

This is in a system where care is free. Decay strongly correlates with socioeconomic group – what happens to the terrified four year olds with raging toothache in the US if their parents are uninsured? Do they just have to put up with it?

Sorry. Went into lecture mode. Seriously, there are bigger things to worry about than fluoride.

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Laura P. January 13, 2014 at 5:59 am

Very interesting and extremely well said, Motorina. My head is spinning lately over all the bad things we are exposed to. I have a sister who is into naturopathic medicine and I think she is spending thousands and thousands of hard earned money into vitamins, minerals, bio identical hormones and seeing “specialist” in that field. Sometimes I wonder if she should just relax and enjoy life like she once did.

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Janet January 13, 2014 at 3:44 am

The CDC has a comprehensive webpage reviewing the evidence on community water fluoridation. They state on one of the pages, “The weight of the peer-reviewed scientific evidence does not support an association between water fluoridation and any adverse health effect or systemic disorder, including an increased risk for cancer, Down syndrome, heart disease, osteoporosis and bone fracture, immune disorders, low intelligence, renal disorders, Alzheimer disease, or allergic reactions.”
http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/index.htm

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nyscof January 13, 2014 at 6:27 am

Fluoridation began in 1945 with the mistaken belief that ingesting fluoride would reduce tooth decay. It was a time when dentists thought they had their “magic bullet” nutrient which would eradicate tooth decay like vitamin C wiped out scurvy or vitamin D wiped out rickets. But it turns out that fluoride is nether a nutrient nor required for healthy teeth. So unlike the other nutrients mentioned, consuming a fluoride free diet does not cause tooth decay. In fact, fluoride is neither a nutrient nor essential for healthy teeth. Fluoride is a drug with side effects and never FDA approved for safety or efficacy

Fluoridation has gotten wrapped up in politics and money because, anyone actually interested in looking, will see the early fluoridation experiments are not scientifically valid. But today fluoride’s image must be preserved in order to keep multi billion dollar international corporations from losing a dime

for more info: http://fluoridealert.org/content/bulletin_12-24-13/

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Motorina January 13, 2014 at 11:17 am

For evidence-based research check out the Cochrane Collaboration. Meta-studies involving tens of thousands of children. http://www.cochrane.org and search for fluoride. Studies on fluoride in water, toothpaste, milk, varnish, mouthwash… It goes on for pages, and there’s more being released all the time.

One can argue against fluoride on civil liberties grounds (I have a fair amount of sympathy for this) but to do so on grounds of efficacy is to disregard a wealth of evidence.

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Joemama January 13, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Thank you Motorina. I think this may be my new before-bed-reading website.

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jwillie6 January 13, 2014 at 7:50 am

Here is a list of 13 Nobel Prize winners in chemistry and medical science who opposed fluoridation. Surely we can trust some of their expertise on this subject.

http://fluoridealert.org/content/nobel_winners/

People everywhere are learning the truth that fluoridation is ineffective for teeth and dangerous to health, so only 5% of the world and only 3% of Europe fluoridate their drinking water. Last July Israel banned it. To see why, Google “Fluoride dangers” and read a few of the 800,000 articles.

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Motorina January 13, 2014 at 10:55 am

Of those 13, only one is later than the 60s. That one is a specialist in Parkinsons, and his objections are on ethical/civil liberties grounds rather than scientific.

Generally, I tend to give more weight to scientists working in their field and opinions based on research less than half a century old.

Which may or may not mean that your opinion is right, but does mean that the nobel prize winners argument is shaky.

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jwillie6 January 13, 2014 at 11:06 am

I suggest everyone read the research from the last 30 years. The easiest way (1200 peer reviewed scientific studies) is to read Dr. Paul Connett’s most recent book “The Case Against Fluoride.” It contains over 1200 peer reviewed studies (80 pages) and sound scientific reasoning showing the ineffectiveness and dangers to health including cancer, thyroid & pineal gland damage, broken hips from brittle bones, lowered IQ, kidney disease, arthritis and other serious health problems.

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Motorina January 13, 2014 at 11:30 am

Don’t even need to buy a book. The Cochrane Collaboration reviews research and produces metastudies on just about every health topic imaginable, informing healthcare policy on everything from alzheimers to zits. Including page after page on fluoride. Worth bookmarking for anyone interested in any area of healthcare.

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Cbuffy January 13, 2014 at 7:55 am

I have happily had well water (unfloridated) for the past 30 years. I have a reverse osmosis system on my well water here at the farm because my water isn’t quite as yummy as my well water was in the city… I use a flouride toothpaste about half the time when I brush. The other half I use a homemade paste of coconut oil, magnesium oil and diatemacious earth with a little wintergreen essential oil for taste. My kids have cavity free teeth. My teeth are much less sensitive since I started oil pulling with coconut oil. I don’t trust flouride – but not enough to freak out about it.
I’m a rule follower too – LDS thing? I don’t know – but the older I get, the crankier I get and tend to follow fewer rules blindly and pick and chose what I’m willing to do and what I’m not. I fought like crazy to NOT have a forced flu-shot through my employer. I’m leery of the little bits of flouride absorbed while brushing, but I am not letting you INJECT who knows what into my body. Thankyouverymuch for offering.

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kara January 13, 2014 at 8:03 am

I’ll also point out that many recent studies have noted that the rate of cavities and tooth decay in children has gone up significantly since we started drinking more bottled water and less tap water. Draw your own conclusions there. ;)

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crabby mcslacker January 13, 2014 at 8:35 am

Yikes, this is one of these issues where I’m not sure I really even want to dig up all the studies and pore through them if it’s only gonna confuse and scare me. It sounds like the IQ study was seriously flawed, so I’m not going to read too much into that one, but will definitely be mindful if the scientific consensus seems to be shifting more towards the side of the Flouride is Evil point of view! Thanks for the heads-up!

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Naomi/Dragonmamma January 13, 2014 at 8:58 am

I don’t believe in forcing things (especially controversial things) on people for their own good. I’m very consistent about this ranging from vaccinations to helmets and seat belts. (Although I do make concessions for protecting children with the non-controversial items (like seat belts.)

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Jess January 13, 2014 at 9:40 am

Well, my dad grew up in a heavily flouridated area and has very brown teeth, but never once had a cavity. He goes to the dentist maybe every 7 years. I had to do the fluoride cart (taste memories coming back… ewww) and have had a life full of cavities. I think the amount needed to help prevent cavities is way too high and the lower amounts shouldn’t be bothered with.
My 9th grade science teacher was super against fluoride, so it has been in and out of my mind since. I am not a fan, and maybe that’s because of hating that cart as a kid, but I don’t believe it helps. Personal opinion completely.
Oh, and don’t use bar soap. Baking soda mixed with water and then a vinegar rinse. ;)

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JavaChick January 13, 2014 at 9:55 am

I grew up on well water, so nothing added there. We were given a fluoride rinse when we visited the dentist, but that was the only time. My sister rarely had cavities, I had lots. Had to look it up, but our city water supply does not have fluoride added. I still have all my teeth, in decent condition today; as an adult I’ve rarely had cavities. I do have very sensitive teeth though (I grind) so I will keep using my fluoride laden, sensitivity reducing toothpaste; that is worth it to me.

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Daisy January 13, 2014 at 11:30 am

A clarification from Portland: we didn’t vote to *remove* fluoride as it’s never been added to the drinking the water here. We were voting whether to *start* fluoridating the water.

Also, the authors of Harvard meta-analysis study said themselves it’s not applicable to the question of fluoridated drinking water in the US. So it’s not that other scientists have dis-credited it so much as the researchers themselves are saying that laypeople are drawing conclusions from it that aren’t at all warranted. Here is their statement:
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/files/2012/07/Media-Statement_Fluoride-9-12-12-Revised.pdf

I’d be interested to hear from folks who are pro-vaccine but anti-fluoride. I’m hearing similar arguments about both issues.

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smac-a-roo January 13, 2014 at 11:43 am

Not giving my opinion on the fluoride thing, because whether you are for or agains, there are strong emotions about it…

BUT the fluroide cart… i used to pretend to put it in my mouth, swich empty and pretend to spit it out…coz the taste made me gag (I also was one of those kids who rarely brushed becasue i diind’t like the taste of toothpaste (and my parents never checked on me), gross, I know. My oral helath is much better now though lol!

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HappinessSavouredHot January 13, 2014 at 11:58 am

My husband teaches future dentists and dental hygienist and always provides them with conflicting evidence on the use of fluoride, to help them develop their critical thinking…

He also always does a mini-survey with each new cohort, and from those NON scientific data, up to now, fluoride seems to make no difference in the presence of cavities. To be continued…

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Abby January 13, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Honestly I would use way more fluoride, even knowing there might be some risks, if it would save me from one more dentist visit where they say “Wow, your oral hygiene looks great, you must really take care of your teeth but… you have cavities.” At this point I’m getting cavities around old fillings and it sucks. If this is my teeth on fluoride I shudder to think what they’d be without.

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Bethany January 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I have bad teeth–lots of fillings, etc, despite good care. As an adult, my rate of cavities has decreased significantly. For about 10 years my only cavities happened right after I had babies (one or two per kid)

I switched to Tom of Maine’s fluoride-free tooth paste and tried it for 6 months, went back to the dentist and had 3 new cavities. I switched back to fluoride toothpaste and my check ups have gone back to normal.

I’m glad my water does not have fluoride added (there’s a small amount naturally occurring), but for now I’ve decided that my mouth is happier with fluoride.

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Megan @ Meg Go Run January 13, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Can I use my extra IQ points for patience???

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Nicole January 13, 2014 at 1:59 pm

And this to me is the danger of people without a background in science getting ahold of studies and applying them broadly (not referring to you since you recognized broader context). Looking at IQs of children exposed to fertilizer is not at all the same as looking for effexts of fluoride in clean drinking water.
If you take a study out of context you can make a case for anything. I am very passionate about fluoride because it was such a huge health advancement. The people who push against fluoride are the people who can pay for a dentist and get tooth-specific fluoride treatments at the dentist. All the kids who’s families cannot afford dental care will be suffering 5-10years from now when we have a generation who has grown up without fluoride.
It is eay to buy a filter to filter out fluorine. But for people who cannot afford dentists, there is no easy way to remedy it’s absence.

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Geosomin January 13, 2014 at 2:26 pm

I dunno. I’m not really opposed to or for fluoride in drinking water, but I think fluoridated toothpaste and mouthwash are good. I have terrible teeth enamel, so any help I can get are certainly welcome. I used to work in a water treatment lab for a city where we had to add fluoride to the municipal drinking water. I remember doing a lot of research into it at the time as I wanted to know what I was doing…and I really couldn’t find anything overly bad about it at the time. Some people may be more sensitive to it, which is why I question adding it to the drinking supply, but to me, if people just brush their teeth, it should be enough in my mind… I have drank fluoridated water for many years I’m not concerned enough about it to get a water filter.

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YesLifeLove January 13, 2014 at 3:57 pm

I have recently spent time thinking about this very subject! For one, over the last couple of years my husband got me drinking the fancy reverse osmosis water that Whole Foods sells, and also got me on what I call “hippie toothpaste,” you know, the kind with no fluoride in it. Well, when I went to the dentist last June I had FOUR cavities. FOUR. And just for reference, at the time I was 33 and in my previous years had only had ONE cavity, and that was back in high school. And I am a religious brush-at-least-twice-a-day kind of girl and relatively diligent flosser, so the only thing I can figure is that the lack of fluoride was what did it. I immediately went back to fluoride toothpaste and now make an effort to at least cook with filtered tap water more often so I get more of it (and had a totally clean checkup in December).

The second thing is that I’m currently pregnant with my first child, and I read that drinking water with fluoride in it is actually good for her teeth, too, which is both cool (if it’s true) and completely freaky, because am I also potentially posioning her by consuming fluoride while pregnant???

In conclusion, I have no answers, only more questions. If I’ve already been dumbed down by 7 IQ points, I might as well have better teeth, right?

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Joemama January 13, 2014 at 6:47 pm

The problem with Googling things is that so often you ONLY get results for the two extremes. You have to dig down, like, 15 pages to get past the “Absolutely YES” and “Absolutely NO” sites. I have also come to the conclusion that a talented writer can argue for anything and make it seem plausible, so I take EVERYTHING on the interwebs with a grain of salt. And since I’m on the internet a lot, I’m up to my eyeballs in sodium. Things are rarely so black or white, health-wise, as people on the internet would have you believe.

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Amy January 13, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Okay, I’m nursing a baby while I type one-handed, so I don’t have time or skill to back up what’s next with scientific references. My parents both grew up in an area of Colorado that had natural calcium fluoride in the water & they both have excellent teeth, as well as still have their wisdom teeth. The fluoride we use in toothpaste and water is sodium fluoride, which is obviously not the same. Difference enough to affect one’s health or actual cavity-prevention? Hmmm…All that to say that I wouldn’t drink fluoridated water, if I had a choice, but I believe topical fluoride in reasonable amounts is helpful. I gave my youngest fluoride supplements as a baby, and she has darker teeth and a cavity, whereas her two sisters have no cavities and pearly whites. Nothing scientific at all in any of this, but it’s my personal experiment/experience.

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Joemama January 13, 2014 at 8:23 pm

That’s SO what I was just doing up there at 6:47! It’s especially difficult to capitalize things one handed when you’re so sleep deprived you forget there’s a caps lock! A nursing mom high five from me to you!

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KDA January 13, 2014 at 8:39 pm

When I asked my dentist what I could do to keep my daughter’s teeth healthy (other than brushing and flossing of course), she said avoid juice and drink tap water instead of bottled water b/c of the flouride.

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Cort the Sport January 14, 2014 at 4:47 am

We are on well water (no fluoride) and I figure the kids get enough “city” water to give them maybe a little. There’s enough not known and enough concerns that I’d rather opt for “less is more”. It’s hard to know what to believe anymore :(

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Jane January 14, 2014 at 7:22 pm

There is a monument to Fluoride in my hometown. We were the “test” city for it; meaning we were the first large scale city to have Fluoride added to the water supply. It was so successful that the control city decided to end the “test” a year later because they added it to their water as well.

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Jane January 14, 2014 at 7:23 pm

Opps ETA: so I fine with Fluoride in my water.

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julie January 15, 2014 at 11:04 am

an aside: I would argue there’s no difference between perez hilton and the daily mail.

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Joemama January 16, 2014 at 10:12 pm

Bwahaha. Except the Daily Mail dishes dirt with a British accent.

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