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Science makes a case for fluoridation

My View: Special election issue isn't about water, it's about your health


As a pediatrician in North Portland for 30 years, I urge undecided voters to use scientific methodology in choosing how fluoridation will benefit Portland’s citizens.

True science uses accurate terms. Opponents’ terms for fluorosilicate as “industrial waste product” or “made from fertilizers” are pejorative, not scientific. Nor are they accurate, since FSA comes directly from hydrolysis of phosphorite rock — which also gives us the phosphoric acid in soda pop.

Scientists, too, take time to accurately footnote references. Meanwhile, fluoridation opponents’ handouts and slide presentations are incorrect. For example, the entire union of Environmental Protection Agency scientists did not vote against fluoridation. Instead, it was a subgroup of less than 20, many of whom were not scientists.

In addition, opponents’ flier references are to wrong pages or to their own websites. Their slide presentation, with an alleged screenshot of or.gov oral health, presents very different conclusions on sealants than the actual website.

Scientists use rat or monkey research to generate hypotheses for further testing on humans, not to decide how to treat patients or determine preventive health policy. Some rat species, fed fluoride 100 times the concentration in water fluoridation, did have changes in their banana preference; other species showed no change. Opponents never quote the latter negative experiments.

To not lift conclusions out of context, scientists read the articles themselves rather than relying on others’ digestion of them. Scientists look first at the methods and accept conclusions only after finding sound methodology.

I can’t speak for all on the "yes" side of this issue, but this standard scientific process is not followed by opponents, who claim fluoride harms so many different organ systems that we must wonder how our Beaverton and Vancouver neighbors don’t live in emergency rooms.

Opponents’ main reference is the 2006 National Research Council report, whose methods section states it is specifically not investigating community water fluoridation. For alleged IQ effects, opponents refer to the “Harvard” study, which reviews 27 articles, 26 from China. China’s water, unlike fluoridated water in the United States, has levels three to 10 times ours and is variably contaminated with truly toxic levels of lead, arsenic, mercury, etc. (Etc. is a very important issue in authentic science). Fluoride levels for their control groups — with normal IQs — were those of our fluoridated water!

Methods used in the Chinese studies would never be accepted by American journals. Few used blinding; none controlled for, or measured, all other vital variables affecting IQ, including parental IQ, socioeconomics, iron deficiency, blood lead levels, etc. The reviewers, unfamiliar with IQ tests, didn’t recognize these tests weren’t validated for their populations, nor did they understand that small variations on IQ tests fall within the test's margin of error and are not considered true differences.

The Oregon Teachers Association and the National PTA and Head Start support fluoridation. They understand IQ testing. They know Americans’ IQs rose 20 points over the same last 65 years when fluoridation rose from zero percent to 70 percent of Americans.

Opponents say, “There are so many worrisome studies, they must add up.” Scientists say: By adding 27 criminals together, you don’t get a law-abiding citizen. Please look at the methodology of every article quoted, or misquoted.

Scientists with the time for this (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plus 100 national and local health associations) conclude that fluoridation works, with no harmful effects — not on thyroid, nor diabetes, nor arthritis, nor cancer. Proper scientific methodology explains why 99 percent of dentists worldwide conclude fluoride’s effect in water is the most cost-effective way to get cavity protection.

If anthrax or plague bioterrorism hit the U.S., to whom would you turn? Everyone answers, the CDC. So why do opponents trust their lives to CDC analyses, but not their teeth?

Dr. Virginia Feldman is a pediatrician who worked 30 years in North Portland and volunteers in developing nations and with Portland-area uninsured.