Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Why are some water supplies fluoridated, but not others?

Image courtesy dangoodwin.

Answer: THE LAW! Or at least, that's part of the story. Courts have been reluctant to strike down local laws requiring water supplies to be fluoridated.

Colorado dentist Frederic K. McKay discovered fluoride's cavity prevention power in 1909. The good news is, children who grew up drinking naturally fluoridated water in the Pikes Peak region had fewer cavities than children from other regions. The bad news is, their teeth were brown and mottled with "Colorado Brown Stain" (ew), now more palatably known as dental fluorosis. There is some truth to the saying "too much of a good thing," and fluoride is no exception.

In 1945, Grand Rapids, Michigan, became the first city to add fluoride to the city water supply. Incidentally, this was ten years before Crest introduced fluoride toothpaste.

But not all was happy in fluoridated water land. Various groups began to question the wisdom of fluoridating water, on health, religious, environmental, and even (paranoid?) political grounds. Scientists began to question the benefits of fluoridated water, especially as weighed against fluoride's health risks--beyond causing the oh-so-attractive Rocky Mountain Mottled Teeth, fluoride can also have adverse effects on bone density at higher concentrations. In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration began to require toothpaste manufacturers to place poison control labels on tubes warning of the dangers of ingesting fluoride. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates fluoride in drinking water, and sets standards for the allowable concentration in water supplies at 4 parts per million. Meanwhile, Christian Scientists began to protest that fluoridation of water supply was forced medication. The Sierra Club has also opposed fluoridation on environmental grounds. During the Cold War, fears even arose that fluoride in the water was a communist plot.

Generally, it is local governments that pass laws related to artificial fluoridation of water supplies. Fluoridation laws are made under the local government's police power to regulate the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens. Several challenges have been brought in the courts against local laws on grounds that it is mandatory medical treatment that violates due process. However, no local fluoridation law has been struck down.



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