A History of Fluoride

A History of Fluoride


Timothy Gower

Colorado Springs dentist Frederic K. McKay asks the US dental community to help him find an explanation for the “Colorado brown stain,” a discoloring of teeth common to the Pikes Peak area. Though residents’ teeth are mottled, they have fewer cavities than is typical.

A dentist in Bauxite, AR, reports extensive staining of residents’ teeth. The town gets its water from a deep well near the site of an aluminum mine; fluoride is a waste by-product of aluminum mining.

Using a new analysis on the Bauxite well water, a chemist finds high concentrations of fluoride. McKay hears about the test and sends water samples from other cities. McKay and others eventually determine that fluoride causes the staining.

Danish fluoride researcher Kaj E. Roholm, MD, Copenhagen’s deputy health commissioner, publishes a 364-page report titled Fluorine Intoxication. In it, he details the bone disease, skin lesions, and mortality that result from long-term exposure to fluoride. He also questions its ability to protect teeth.

Researcher Gerald J. Cox at the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh releases results from a rat study (showing healthier teeth) to support his recommendation that water be fluoridated.

A National Institutes of Health study of 7,000 children shows that fluoride at 1 part per million (ppm) in water is enough to minimize tooth decay without causing discoloration–or dental fluorosis, as it’s now called.

Federal scientists choose four pairs of cities for a 13- to 15-year study of fluoridation: Grand Rapids and Muskegon, MI; Newburgh and Kingston, NY; Evanston and Oak Park, IL; and Brantford and Sarnia, Ontario. Grand Rapids becomes the first city in the world to have fluoridated water.

Muskegon, the comparison city for Grand Rapids, begins fluoridating its own water supply. Communities across the country join in, well in advance of any published results of the four-cities studies.

Procter & Gamble introduces Crest, the first fluoride toothpaste endorsed by the American Dental Association.

Results from the Grand Rapids study are published. The findings are called into question because the control was dropped 6 years into the study.

The movie Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb is released. In it, an insane general, Jack D. Ripper, attributes fluoridation to a communist plot.

A federal report finds evidence that Americans’ consumption of fluoride from food and water has increased significantly. At these levels, the report states, bone damage is a risk.

As part of its “Healthy People 2000” plan, the CDC sets a goal of getting fluoridated water to 75% of Americans. Then, as now, roughly two-thirds have treated water.

A government review board, the National Research Council, issues a report indicating that the variety of fluoride sources in the United States could make limiting fluoride exposure necessary, and “reduction of fluoride concentrations in drinking water would be easier to administer, monitor, and evaluate” than alternative cutbacks.

The FDA requires toothpaste manufacturers to place a poison control label on tubes and boxes reading: If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.

The CDC issues new guidelines saying that fluoride supplements should only be given to children in nonfluoridated communities who are also at high risk of cavities.

The NRC releases a report suggesting that the current upper limit for fluoride in water could cause tooth damage, bone fractures, and neurological problems and may be connected to certain cancers. It recommends the EPA lower the safe exposure limit.

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