Fluoride is a mineral that is found in the Earth’s crust and seawater. From there, it naturally gets into our food and water supply in very low quantities.
However, most of us ingest more fluoride than naturally occurs. As you are probably aware, many governments around the world add fluoride to the water supply, which has led to controversy and conspiracy theories.
Just what are these governments – including our own – up to? Well, before you grab your tinfoil hat, let’s delve a little into the history.
To understand why we drink fluoride-laced water, we need to go back in time over a hundred years to a dentist named Dr Frederick McKay.
In 1901, McKay graduated from dental school and moved to Colorado Springs to start a practice. After arriving, he made a startling discovery – a huge number of the residents had brown-stained teeth.
After working on it for 30(!) years, McKay concluded that high levels of fluoride in the water were causing the tooth discolouration.
In 1931, Dr H. Trendley Dean picked up where McKay had left off. Dean recalled that those with Colorado Brown Stain, which became known as fluorosis, had teeth that were unusually resistant to tooth decay. This led him to research the amount of fluoride that he could add to water to achieve the benefits of stronger teeth, but without causing fluorosis.
Dean wanted to test his idea, and in 1945 he got his wish, when the city of Grand Rapid became the first city in the world to fluoridate its drinking water. The practice soon spread and by 1951, the US Government had officially endorsed the process.
According to an article in the aptly-named journal Water, Australia followed suit in 1953, starting with Tasmania.
Today, the government of South Australia estimates that more than 80% of Australians drink fluoridated water, with notable differences from state to state. In Queensland for example, fluoridated water coverage has been as low as 79% and in New South Wales, which has one of the highest rates, it’s as high as 96%.
As well as being added to drinking water, fluoride is also used in dental products, such as toothpaste, aiding in the prevention of cavities. And fluoridation is endorsed by such heavy-hitters as the American Dental Association and the World Health Organization.
Unless that’s just what ‘they’ want you to believe. Now you can put on those tinfoil hats, people.
Conspiracy theorists believe that fluoride is actually a tranquilizer that governments are using to turn its citizens into zombies.
Really juicy conspiracy theories evolve with the times.
The popular – and debunked – myth that Hitler used fluoride for nefarious means is a common starting point for the anti-fluoride crowd. In the 1950s and 1960s, they claimed it was a Communist plot to attack American health.
And in the 1990s, a paper came out that proved fluoride accumulated in the pineal gland, or third eye. Coincidence? They thought not.
Today, despite the medical consensus that appropriate levels are quite safe, there are still anti-fluoride lobbyists throughout the world, including Australia.
In 2012, Queensland councillors approved legislation to halt the fluoridation of water. And when voting to opt out in 2013, Cairns mayor Bob Manning called the process “mass medication” (he has since changed his mind, and local councils in Queensland now have the choice of whether or not to fluoridate).
How’s that working out for the Sunshine State? Quite badly – unless you are dentist.
As reported by News.com.au, a three-year study by the University of Queensland found that tooth decay in children dropped 19 per cent when it was reintroduced to a small town in the southern tip of the state.
From a libertarian point of view, people might say “we didn’t ask for you to add stuff to our water, so why are you doing it?” However, we can apply that logic to anything the government does for the benefit of its citizens. (“Why did you put up traffic lights, man?”)
The point is, fluoride has well-established properties for the fight against dental cavities, and it doesn’t seem to hurt us.
And that’s why we need it.
Or do we?