There’s a lot of what I call medical and dental sensationalism that goes on in the online world. Shocking conclusions get traffic, and often they play to people’s biases.
Some of this sensationalizing is relatively innocent, as people slightly embellish the conclusions of legitimate studies. I reported on this blog last week on a story based on a research article about the oral pH of people who sleep with their mouth open. The article hypothesized that mouth breathing might lead to enamel erosion or decay. Widespread reporting on the study glossed over that this was merely a hypothesis.
Today I came across an article that is more of a designed attempt to promote an agenda. It comes from an online magazine, Uncommon Wisdom Daily, and the article is titled “Fluoride Classified as a Neurotoxin” by a writer named Brad Hoppman. It begins with the attention-grabbing statement: “The world’s oldest and most-prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, has officially classified fluoride as a neurotoxin. This puts fluoride in the same category as arsenic, lead and mercury.”
Errors in the Article
I looked up the study referenced, and uncovered a host of errors in their reporting of it. Let me list them.
1. The Lancet is the world’s most prestigious medical journal.
2. The Lancet has officially classified fluoride . . .
3. . . . classified fluoride as a neurotoxin.
4. The study didn’t actually examine fluoride. The author of the study only referenced data available from China that showed that Chinese children residing in areas with high fluoride concentrations had slightly lower IQs than children in other areas, presumably in areas with normal fluoride concentrations. But Hoppman shades the results to implicate ALL fluoride, not elevated levels of fluoride.
5. The conclusion of the study was that more research is needed – it wasn’t definitive.
Stoking Fluoride Fear
So, with a generous amount of exaggeration, Hoppman helps stoke fears of fluoride. Fluoride, let me repeat here, is a natural mineral that is present in most natural water sources. When I practiced in Iowa, I had patients from rural areas who had well water, and I would ask them to bring in samples of that water and send it in for analysis of its fluoride content. Every sample had some fluoride in it. And the research establishing that the presence of the mineral fluoride in water in certain very low concentrations helps during formative years to build teeth that are more decay-resistant, that research is solid. Unethical fear-mongerers like Hoppman cause their share of damage.
The real poison in our drinking water is chlorine, and it’s curious that fear-mongerers like Hoppman choose instead to go after fluoride. Chlorine kills bacteria and other pathogens and is one one the reasons the water supplies in this country are among the safest in the world, but it is a poison. Fluoride, on the other hand, is a beneficial mineral nutrient.
My recommendation—be at least slightly skeptical of every sensational-sounding news article addressing medical or dental information. Don’t stray from solidly established principles without repeated evidence from various sources.
– Dr. Hall
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