Fluoride in water is as safe as global warming is dangerous
There is no smoking-gun evidence on the detrimental health effects of fluoride in drinking water. That’s the truth. You can certainly accumulate a body of reading material on the Internet to support any predisposed position you want to take on the issue of fluoridated municipal water, but none rises to the level of actual scientific proof. This doesn’t mean that fluoride is safe. It doesn’t mean that it is dangerous, either.
When I researched this issue, of course I thought I could find convincing evidence one way or another. I do research for a living. I’m good at it. And, if not in the writing part of my professional life then at least in the tax-advising part of it, I’d better be able to be objective about what I find — otherwise I get into big trouble.
If you are going to decide the fluoride issue based on hard evidence, you are going to be disappointed. On the pro-fluoride side, it is easy to see that tooth decay has dramatically decreased since fluoride began to be introduced into municipal water systems in the 1940s. That’s not great evidence of the benefits of the program, though. There are too many other contributing variables at play — the prevalence of fluoride toothpaste, a growing overall health consciousness, better eating habits, more dentist visits per capita, etc., etc.
On the anti-fluoride side, the hard evidence is at least as weak. There have been no scientific studies performed that definitively link appropriately fluoridated water to cancer, higher incidence of bone fractures, death or illness from poisoning, etc., etc. The case against fluoride is built almost exclusively on anecdotes.
What, then, am I going to use to make up my mind about whether Snowmass Village should add fluoride to our drinking water? Well, I’m going to take the same approach I use to make a call on global warming — or climate change, as confused participants in that debate now call it.
If we are being honest about global warming, very few of us (i.e., practically none) have looked at or analyzed any comprehensive scientific data on the subject, nor are we qualified to extract conclusions from it if we have. We say with confidence that climate change exists or that it isn’t really happening, but the truth is that you and I don’t know. All we personally have is sketchy evidence based on our observations of a tiny portion of the planet when we happen to be thinking about it. That’s not nearly good enough.
Here’s the thing, though: We don’t need to have evaluated reams of data or earned advanced degrees in math, physics and the sciences to be able to make informed decisions about global warming. We need to look at a consensus of findings of trained people who do seriously study this stuff.
Yes, some studies are undoubtedly influenced by the interests of the people who are paying for them. But there are two things to consider when we make this argument to discount experts’ conclusions. First, both sides of the scientific community studying the issue are subject to the influence of their studies’ sponsors, and all studies are paid for by someone. And secondly, not everyone in the scientific community is lying. In fact, most are not lying. The dishonest scholars who fudge their findings may cash out in the short run, but they are unlikely to rise to be esteemed within their fields, which to do so requires being constantly subjected to rigorous peer review over the span of their careers. For the most part, these are the people who stick around and populate their professional fields and end up making better livings in the long run.
So, as hard as it may be to admit, knowing nothing about the actual data and scientific proof, I have to run with the scientific crowd on global warming, using a little bit of personal observation on the climate conditions around me just to make me comfortable. I believe that global warming is happening and that we are a significant contributing factor of it.
But global warming isn’t what we are talking about here. We are talking about fluoride in drinking water. Do I have any evidence for you that fluoride in the water is safe? Absolutely not. I have no proof that it is dangerous, either. What I can tell you is that an overwhelming majority of the scientific community that has studied this issue has determined that the benefits far outweigh any proven or even anecdotal dangers. That’s good enough.
Roger Marolt thinks it’s bad enough we have to drive to Glenwood for our gas. Now we may have to drive to Aspen for our water, too. Email email@example.com.