Government Reduces Recommended Fluoride Levels in Water

Controversy Continues Over Health Effects, Including Thyroid Risks

fluoride fluoridation water thyroid
Altrendo Images/Getty

For the first time in over 60 years, the federal government has changed the recommendations regarding the amount of fluoride in drinking water. The new recommendations state that the optimal range should be cut almost in half, from 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water to a new level of .7 milligrams of fluoride per liter.

According to Deputy Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak, "The change is recommended because now Americans have access to more sources of fluoride, such as toothpaste and mouth rinses than they did when fluoridation was first introduced in the United States. The new recommended level will maintain the protective decay prevention benefits of water fluoridation and reduce the occurrence of dental fluorosis."

Dental fluorosis is a discoloration of teeth, due to overexposure to fluoride. Mild fluorosis causes white spots on teeth, and more severe fluorosis can cause brown stains and mottling and discoloration of teeth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 41 percent of Americans age 12 to 15 have some fluorosis, and that rate is increasing. What does fluorosis look like? Here is a photo that depicts very mild, mild, moderate, and very severe fluorosis.

The Fluoride Controversy

It's estimated that two-thirds of Americans drink fluoridated water, in comparison to Western Europe, where only 3% of the population drink fluoridated water. The American Dental Association and the federal health agencies continue to maintain that fluoride is safe and that the only health risk is fluorosis, which they feel will be addressed by the guidelines recommending reduced levels.

The recommended reduction in fluoride levels does not, however, satisfy opponents of fluoride, who link fluoride exposure to a number of health issues.The Fluoride Action network maintains a list of conditions, along with research citations, linking fluoride to arthritis, gastrointestinal effects, bone fractures, brain effects, kidney disease, cancer, male fertility, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, endocrine disruption, and thyroid disease, among other conditions. Michael Connett of the Fluoride Action Network has called for an end to fluoridation in the US.

"In our view it's high time for the United States to start following the approach taken by most of the Western world and stop fluoridating its water. It makes far more sense for those people who want to use fluoride to brush it on their teeth, spit it out and that way you apply fluoride to the only tissue in the body that stands to benefit. And you don't expose every other tissue in the body."

Another chief opponent is Dr. Philippe Grandjean, a physician and environmental health researcher at Harvard University. Dr. Grandjean believes the levels should be even lower, due to the negative health impact of fluoride. In his case, his concerns are related to studies showing lower IQ levels in children exposed to fluoride. According to the Fluoride Action Network, 43 of 50 human studies investigated have found that elevated fluoride exposure is associated with reduced IQ levels. At his site, Chemical Brain Drain, Dr. Grandjean has said:

"Among the findings, children with fluoride-induced mottling of their teeth – even the mildest forms that appears as whitish specks on the enamel – showed lower performance on some neuropsychological tests. This observation runs contrary to popular wisdom that the enamel effects represent a cosmetic problem only and not a sign of toxicity. At least one of five American children has some degree of mottling of their teeth... Although the link between mottled teeth and brain toxicity still needs to be further characterized, the existence of uncertainty is no excuse for mottling the debate with hyperbole. Prevention of chemical brain drain should be considered at least as important as protection against caries (cavities)."

A recent study in the journal Environmental Health found that states with higher rates of fluoridated water have a higher rate of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. What they found in their analysis was that each 1 percent increase in fluoridation was associated with approximately 67,000 to 131,000 additional ADHD diagnoses during the period 2003 to 2011.

According to William Hirzy, a researcher at American University, and a former risk assessment scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency:

The numbers of extra cases associated with a one percent increase in the 1992 artificial fluoridation [figures] are huge. In short, it clearly shows that as artificial water fluoridation increases, so does the incidence of ADHD.

The Thyroid Connection

One controversial health concern regarding fluoride is the potential impact of fluoride on thyroid function. There have been some studies that link thyroid disease to fluoride exposure, while others that showed no connection.

The February 2015 issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, however, reported on a comprehensive study that took place in England, comparing hypothyroidism rates in fluoridated vs. non-fluoridated areas.

They found that locations with fluoridated water supplies were more than 30 percent more likely to have high levels of hypothyroidism, compared to areas with low fluoride levels. In general, there were 9 percent more cases of underactive thyroid in fluoridated places.

According to the study, "the West Midlands (a wholly fluoridated area) are nearly twice as likely to report high hypothyroidism prevalence in comparison to Greater Manchester (non-fluoridated area)." They concluded: "The findings of the study raise particular concerns about the validity of community fluoridation as a safe public health measure."