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To Fluoridate Or Not To Fluoridate

The early fluoridation studies apparently demonstrated that fluoridation was an economical and convenient method to produce a 50-60% reduction in the tooth decay of an entire community and that there were no health risks associated with the increased fluoride consumption. Consequently, many communities quickly moved to fluoridate their water supplies in the 1950s. However strong opposition to fluoridation soon emerged as opponents claimed that the possible side effects of fluoride had been inadequately investigated. It was not surprising that some people were concerned by the addition of fluoride to water since high levels of fluoride ingestion can be lethal. However, it is not unusual for a substance that is lethal at high concentration to be safe at lower levels, as is the case with most vitamins and trace elements.

Opponents of fluoridation were also very concerned on moral grounds because fluoridation represented compulsory mass medication. Individuals had a right to make their own choice in health matters, fluoridation opponents argued, and a community violated these rights when fluoride was added to its water supply. Fluoridation proponents countered such criticism by saying that it was morally wrong not to fluoridate water supplies because this would result in many more people suffering from tooth decay which could have easily been avoided through fluoridation.

The issue of fluoridation had become very much polarized by the 1960s since there was no middle ground: water was either fluoridated or not. Controversy and heated debate surrounded the issue across the country. Critics pointed to the known harmful effects of large doses of fluoride that led to bone damage and to the special risks for people with kidney disease or those who were particularly sensitive to toxic substances. Between the 1950s and 1980s, some scientists suggested that fluoride may have a mutagenic effect (that is, it may be capable of causing human birth defects). Controversial claims that fluoride can cause cancer were also raised. Today, some scientists still argue that the benefits of fluoridation are not without health risks.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ferroelectric materials to Form and matterFluoridation - Fluoride And Tooth Decay, Early Fluoridation Studies, To Fluoridate Or Not To Fluoridate, Fluoridation Outside The United States