Captain Fields called me into his treatment room to examine a patient. Dr. Fields was the executive officer for the Dental Clinic at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. I was fresh out of dental school, working in my first month as a Navy dentist at boot camp for west coast Marines. “Take a look Lieutenant Wright. What do you see?”
The patient was a 19 year old Marine Corp recruit. He had 32 teeth. They were perfect. No stain, no dental decay. X-rays of his teeth showed no sign of decay between the teeth. “Er, sir there is nothing here to see, his teeth are just fine.” I said. “Exactly!” said Dr. Fields. “This recruit tells me he has never been to the dentist before in his life! Never. Why does he have such perfect teeth?” Before I could answer Captain Fields turned to the recruit still sitting in the dental chair and asked, “Recruit, tell Dr. Wright where you are from.” “Sir, Amarillo, Texas.” was the recruit’s reply. “You see Dr. Wright, this is what we call ‘Texas teeth’”.
Patients from America’s southwest get an added benefit from their water. In many areas the water naturally contains enough fluoride to prevent dental decay. Study after study indicates 1 part per million of fluoride in drinking water will safely and effectively inhibit tooth decay; especially if used during the first 9 years of a person’s life. During my time as a dentist at the boot camp in San Diego, I saw many patients who had exceptional dental health even after a life of limited or no dental treatment. Unfortunately, I also saw the reverse. There were other locations in our nation without any fluoride in the water. Patients from these locations spent lots of time with me and my colleagues as we tried to restore teeth ravaged by dental decay.
Recently, the town council of Timberville considered removing fluoride from their water supply. Add Timberville to a long long list of cities and towns that have considered and reconsidered fluoride for their citizens since America started adding fluoride to their drinking water in the 1950’s. This in spite of over 10,000 scientific studies showing that fluoride is safe and effective.
The anti-fluoridation movement in the United States has a long history. Since the 1950’s these folks have made some outlandish claims such as: fluoride was a “…red conspiracy forced on the U.S. by communists” and that it was a “plot to weaken the Aryan race” by “weakening the frontal lobes” (of the brain). *
Today’s fluoridation opponents are skilled at the use of half truths and out right false statements to get their point across and their vote counted. Fluoride opponents will state that fluoride is toxic. This is only half right. At high doses, fluoride IS toxic. At high enough doses many useful compounds are toxic. Chlorine added to drinking water at low levels prevents harmful bacteria from causing diseases like dysentery. Iodine is added to table salt to prevent thyroid diseases like goiter.
When considering whether a substance is toxic, it is important to understand that the dose will make something useful into something toxic. Fluoride, iodine and chlorine are toxic at very high doses. At the long recommended dose of 1 part per million fluoride is non-toxic and makes teeth resistant to dental decay.
While early studies focused on the benefits of water fluoridation for children, later public health studies show adults enjoy a 20-40% reduction in dental decay from water fluoridation. Dental decay on the root surfaces of the teeth, a concern for senior citizens, is reduced in communities with fluoridated water as well. Some studies indicate that more money is spent fighting dental decay than heart disease and diabetes. Of all the diseases that affect children, dental decay is the most common. If fluoride is taken out of the water supply in Timberville those most affected will be children under 10 years old. Is this really what we want for our friends in Timberville?
Douglas Wright, DDS
*McNeil, Donald R., America’s Longest War: The Fight over Fluoridation, 1950-,The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 1985 pp 140-153.