drinking water fluoridation and childrens health page

By Christopher Bryson
Seven Stories Press: 2004, 272 pp.




The Fluoride Deception

The Fluoride Deception, by Christopher Bryson, deserves credit for a catchy title but the story he tells ultimately lacks credibility. The book begins as an informative historical expose of the occupational and environmental impact of fluoride use in industry in the 20th century. However Bryson then commits his own “deception” regarding risks and benefits of water fluoridation. He is either scientifically unsophisticated or willingly allowing his politics to trump science. Either way, the last half of the book confuses types of fluoride compounds after cautioning the reader against doing so, carelessly equates the dangers of high dose exposure to the level of fluoride added to water, misquotes scientific articles, and relies on references by authors with questionable credentials, equating opinion to factual evidence. Individuals express their viewpoints at Congressional Hearings, but such testimonials cannot be taken as fact simply because someone said it was so. Bryson presents such testimonials as truth, but there is a large difference between scientific evidence and personal opinion. It is not clear that he understands the difference.

According to Bryson, the root of the “fluoride deception” lies in its usefulness as uranium hexafluoride for isotope enrichment in production of weapons-grade uranium for the top secret Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb used by the United States military on Hiroshima in World War II. As a result of the uranium production, workers and communities were exposed to toxic levels of fluoride, a fact the US government suppressed. At that point in US history, the US government exerted unprecedented control over all industrial production to support the war effort. No automobiles were produced except for those in critical jobs. Clothing manufacturers were ordered to produce suits without lapels. Food was rationed. It was forbidden to manufacture girdles or butter. Rather, the nation’s industrial machinery was focused on the war effort. Production of the atomic bomb was top secret and subject to a desperate timeline. Occupational medicine was a fledgling medical specialty; doctors in the field generally worked directly for industry and there was virtually no independent academic research. In that context, it was not laudable that workers and communities were exposed to high dose fluoride toxicity, but it was not particularly surprising. We need to learn from this history and not repeat or perpetuate such dangers. If Bryson had stopped writing at this point, he would have produced a valuable book on the dangers of placing “national/economic” interest ahead of workers and communities. However, continuing the theme of “fluoride deception”, Bryson makes a wild leap, insisting that the effort to fluoridate water for prevention of dental decay was directly related to the cover up of the industrial hazards of high fluoride exposure in the nuclear industry. This conspiracy is not well referenced and seems exceedingly unlikely. He quotes statements that are out of date, taken out of context, misrepresent legitimate scientific research or draw scientifically invalid conclusions from evidence cited. The most frequent mistake was assuming that one part per million fluoride in optimally fluoridated water presents the same risk as larger amounts, like 100 parts per million, of fluoride given to rats or experienced in industrial settings. This is sloppy journalism, not accurate scientific reporting.
A basic principle in medicine is that effects of substances on the human body depend on the dose to which the body is exposed. A little may be beneficial; a lot of the same substance can be harmful. This is true for calcium, chlorine, iodine, iron and oxygen, as well as fluoride. Bryson refers to research by Phyllis Mullenix, Ph.D., reporting hyperactivity in rats given fluoridated water. When I checked the study referenced, I found Mullinex gave rats water 175 times the concentration of fluoridated water; it is an error to conclude from this research that fluoridated water causes hyperactivity in children. Bryson cites an article by John Featherstone, M.SC. PH.D (Journal of the American Dental Association, Vol. 181, July 2000. 887) as saying fluoride does not work systemically in preventing tooth decay. Bryson’s conclusion is therefore drinking fluoridated water cannot be effective; he says it must be applied topically directly to the teeth to have a benefit. That is clearly not the conclusion of the actual article by Featherstone, which states, “Fluoride, the key agent in battling caries, works primarily via topical mechanisms: inhibition of demineralization, enhancement of remineralization and inhibition of bacterial enzymes. Fluoride in drinking water and in fluoride-containing products reduces caries via these topical mechanisms.”
Fluoride Deception appears to be a well-researched book, with over 100 pages of footnotes and references. However, the majority of the references refer to taped conversations rather than scientific references. Scientific articles referred to are either of poor quality or misquoted to present the case that community water fluoridation is ineffective at preventing tooth decay and is dangerous. Other sweeping statements like, “Fluoride is a poison that accumulates in the body over a lifetime,” are presented without documentation. Bryson repeatedly forces the “facts” in his preconceived analysis.

In 1999, the Sacramento Board of Supervisors asked Health Officer, Dr. Glennah Trochet, to report on water fluoridation. She assembled a scientific panel to review literature submitted to the Board from both sides of the debate. The panel established standards for evaluating the 132 references submitted, then proceeded to review the articles covering 50 years of scientific investigation. Criteria of legitimacy included: publication in an acceptable peer-reviewed journal, pertinence to community water fluoridation, and validity and quality of scientific research. The preponderance of evidence supported fluoridation of community water as a safe and effective method of preventing dental caries. The panel found no verifiable association shown between optimal fluoridation of community water and conditions such as hip fractures, bone cancer, severe dental or bone fluorosis, Alzheimer’s disease or heavy metal poisoning. Sacramento County enacted water fluoridation to advance common good in the absence of identifiable harm.

Had Bryson stayed with the historical expose of industrial toxicity, Fluoride Deception would have been a useful lesson rather than the potentially destructive book he authored. One wonders about his motivation. If controversy sells books, he may have accomplished his goal.

Ann Lindsay, MD
Health Officer, Humboldt County


“The fact is that I started out as somewhat skeptical and cautious about fluoridation. But then I became a firm believer as proof was assembled by scientists that fluoridation of a water supply will reduce the production of tooth cavities (our most prevalent disease) by 60%, and, just as important, that no disease or defect is caused by this procedure. What particularly allayed my early doubts about adding a chemical to public water supplies was learning that fluoride has always occurred naturally in water supplies.” Dr. Benjamin Spock
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