Fluoridation Turns 60

May 12, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Love it or hate it, fluoridation just turned 60.

Mayor George Heartwell will preside over a special ceremony today to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the “Grand Rapids Study” in 1945 that demonstrated the rate of dental cavities dropped 60 percent as a result of drinking fluoridated water.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called community water fluoridation one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. Today, 86.2 percent of Michigan’s public water systems are fluoridated.

According to the Journal of Dental Research, the use of fluoride was primarily responsible for savings of approximately $40 billion in oral care delivery in the United States.

The average cost to fluoridate a water supply is about 75 cents a year per person. Over a lifetime, that is less than the cost of having one cavity treated.

“It’s pretty remarkable to think that the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay all started right here in Grand Rapids,” said Steve Dater, a general dentist from Rockford and treasurer of the Michigan Dental Association.

Not everyone is a fan of fluoridation, however.

Critics complain that the experiment was done without the public’s permission or knowledge, and question the validity of the study’s results, which was based on its effects on children’s teeth.

According to the journal Nature, “the methodologies used would embarrass any self-respecting statistician or epidemiologist today.”

Grand Rapids was the first city to attempt fluoridation of its public water supply, but later that year, Newburgh, N.Y., began a similar study concerning fluoride’s effects to the rest of the body.

After 10 years, bone defects and earlier female menstruation occurred more often in Newburgh’s children dosed with sodium fluoride-laced drinking water when compared to the control city of Kingston, N.Y.

“These results were ignored at the time, but are now being seen as valuable clues to far more serious problems,” said Paul Connett, a professor at nearby St. Lawrence University who teaches environmental chemistry and toxicology.

Connett cited other negative effects, including increased instances of accumulation of fluoride in the human pineal gland with a lowering of melatonin levels, increased bone fractures in children and osteosarcoma, a frequently fatal bone cancer.

According to a New York State Department of Health Study, after over 50 years of water fluoridation, children in Newburgh have more cavities and more fluoride-caused discolored teeth than children in the never-fluoridated Kingston.

“I don’t blame the average dentist for going along with fluoridation, I blame organized dentistry for not being honest about the benefits which they have exaggerated and the serious health problems which they ignore,” said Connett, who is also executive director of the Fluoride Action Network.

Connett will not be in attendance at today’s ceremony, which will begin at 4 p.m. at the site of the city’s fluoridation monument on the Grand River at the end of Louis and Campau streets in downtown Grand Rapids. Along with Heartwell, speakers include State Rep. Jerry Kooiman, R-Grand Rapids, MDA President-Elect Dr. Josef Kolling and representatives of the local West Michigan Dental Society.

The fluoride celebration is part the 5,900-member MDA’s 149th annual meeting and convention at the DeVos Place and Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. The four-day event began yesterday.    

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