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Toxic chemicals: the case against fluoride

By Mark Diesendorf - posted Wednesday, 9 February 2005

The use of fluorides in dental public health is an example of a class of chronically toxic chemicals that escapes the usual regulatory and assessment processes, avoids the fundamental principle of toxicology (namely to protect those at greatest risk) and violates medical ethics. Furthermore, it is argued here that the promotion of fluoridation uses the image of science while avoiding and misrepresenting its substance.


Sustainability is the goal or endpoint (if there is an end-point) of the process known overseas as “sustainable development” or, in Australia, as “ecologically sustainable development” (ESD). There are many definitions of ESD. One alternative to the well-known Brundtland definition is “types of economic and social development that protect and enhance the natural environment and social equity”.

One of many threats to both the natural environment and social equity comprises the many chemicals, both artificial and natural, that are present in food and drink consumed by humans. This article focuses on fluoride, which has been largely ignored in Australia as a toxic chemical, because of its use in public health dentistry.


Fluoride exists naturally in surface drinking waters, usually at levels in the range 0.1-0.2 ppm. In six countries - USA, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Singapore and Columbia - more than 50 per cent of the population is exposed to drinking water fluoridated artificially to about 1 ppm (1 mg fluoride per litre of water) by public health authorities. Depending upon the quantity of tap water ingested both directly and indirectly through food processed with fluoridated water, this results in daily fluoride doses approximately in the range 1.5-6.5 mg. In continental Europe fluoridation has been discontinued or never implemented almost everywhere, because of concerns about its safety and effectiveness.

Fluoride as a toxic chemical

In most cases where fluoride is added to public water supplies, it is in the form of either fluorosilicic acid (H2SiF6) or sodium silicofluoride (Na2SiF6), both of which are obtained from the untreated waste liquor from cleaning the scrubbers in phosphate fertiliser manufacturing plants. This source of fluoride contains traces of arsenic, cadmium and other toxic chemicals, yet it has never been tested for safety by the US EPA or Australian authorities.

However, fluoride toothpaste generally contains about 1000 ppm of pharmaceutical-grade fluoride. It is well known that fluoride is a highly reactive biochemical agent. It forms a strong hydrogen bond with the groups found in proteins and nucleic acids, and hence can and does inhibit and or activate many enzymes, hormones and G-proteins.

A review of the international scientific literature reveals that fluoride at the concentration of about 1 ppm in drinking water has inter alia the actual and possible health hazards summarised in the table below.

Health Hazard

Scientific Evidence

Certainty* of hazard in humans

Dental fluorosis(a physiological effect, not simply cosmetic)

Extensive clinical and epidemiological studies on humans

Certain; widely acknowledged by dental researchers

Skeletal fluorosis, which involves calcification of bones and joints and abnormal bone growth

Large body of clinical and a few epidemiological studies in naturally fluoridated areas of India, China, Persian Gulf and Africa

Certain, but ignored by many pro-fluoridationists, early stages of disease almost indistinguishable from arthritis

Hip and other bone fractures, mostly in older people

Majority of 20 epidemiological studies on humans in several countries

Very probable; pro-fluoridationists focus on the few studies that show no effect

Hypersensitivity reactions

One epidemiological (double blind) and large body of clinical studies (blind)

Observed in about 1 per cent of population

Brain damage with corresponding decrease in IQ

Animal pathologies plus animal and human behavioural experiments


Genetic mutations and chromosome aberrations

Animal and in vitro experiments


Some actual and potential health hazards from fluoridated water (1 ppm fluoride)

* The present author’s assessment. For an extensive and intensive referenced review of the scientific literature and bibliography and risks and alleged benefits of fluoridation, see and
† Cases of skeletal fluorosis have been reported when fluoride concentrations in drinking water are as low as 0.7 ppm, a fact that is even acknowledged by the pro-fluoridation National Health and Medical Research Council, but denied by many other promoters of fluoridation. Many cases of skeletal fluorosis have been reported in the refereed medical literature for communities with fluoride concentrations below 2.5 ppm.

A key matter for concern is that the health hazards of fluoride result from systemic effects, while the limited benefits are topical (i.e. acting directly on the surface of teeth). There is now a large body of scientific evidence supporting the latter result, to the extent that even the pro-fluoridation US Centers for Disease Control acknowledge that fluoride’s mechanisms of action on teeth are “predominantly topical”. But dental and health authorities still claim incorrectly that there is substantial benefit from ingesting this toxic chemical.

Are there some topical dental benefits?

Very briefly the scientific observations are:

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First published in the January/February issue of Chemistry in Australia a publication for professional chemists. For a more general and extensive article on fluoridation read, 'A kick in the teeth for scientific debate', in Australasian Science, vol. 24, no. 8, September 2003.

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About the Author

Dr Mark Diesendorf is Deputy Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies, UNSW. Previously, at various times, he was a Principal Research Scientist in CSIRO, Professor of Environmental Science at UTS and Director of Sustainability Centre Pty Ltd. He is author of about 80 scholarly papers and the book Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy. His latest book is Climate Action: A campaign manual for greenhouse solutions (UNSW Press, 2009).

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