Political activists campaigning on health issues often resort to scaremongering. This can be dangerous – especially when their stories have no real basis but rely on selective and distorted information.
Paul Connett’s Fluoride Action Network (FAN) often resorts to this sort of scaremongering. Now they are launching a series of stories dressed up as “exposès.” The first is aimed at African-Americans and claims the US “federal government has known for five decades that blacks were even more susceptible than whites to serious damage from fluoride added to water supplies, but it urged local governments to fluoridate the population anyway.”
Typically, Connett’s Crowd is promoting this campaign through FAN press releases which get picked up by “natural” health magazines and web pages. The articles are then heavily promoted throughout social media by activists – sometimes even making their way into the mass media (see Gov’t Failed to Warn about Fluoride’s Disproportionate Harm to Black Community and Feds: Blacks Suffer Most From Fluoride, Fluoridate Anyway).
The press release is summed up in the first paragraph:
“Government health authorities knew over 50 years ago that black Americans suffered greater harm from fluoridation, yet failed to warn the black community about their disproportionate risk, according to documents obtained by the Fluoride Action Network (FAN).”
So the evidence, the “document,” on which they hang this story, is a memo.
Now, that is very pathetic to hang a campaign on, isn’t it. And the campaigners are also relying on the false idea that anything obtained via freedom of information inquiry must have been “secret” or “hidden” from the public eyes. (Incidentally they do the same with the Certificates of Analysis for fluoridation chemicals used by water treatment plants – even appearing to think that listing an analytical result for contaminants, however small, is somehow “proof” that the contamination is a problem – see Fluoridation: emotionally misrepresenting contamination and Natural News comes out with a load of heavy metal rubbish on fluoride).
Differences in dental fluorosis prevalence not hidden
But the scientific information comparing prevalence of dental fluorosis among US whites and African-Americans is neither new or hidden. In fact, FAN’s press release does refer to a little of this published data, but again typically they distort it.
In particular it uses data from studies where fluoride in drinking water were often higher than the optimum levels for community water fluoridation (CWF). Consequently the studies include some people exhibiting the medium and severe forms of dental fluorosis never observed with CWF.
One of the papers cited is Martinez-Mier, E. A., & Soto-Rojas, A. E. (2010). Differences in exposure and biological markers of fluoride among White and African American children. Journal of Public Health Dentistry, 70(3), 234–40. It did report higher amounts of dental fluorosis in the African-American children they studied. But it also found that the African-American children in the study reported using larger amounts of toothpaste and had higher urine fluoride concentrations than white children. It concluded:
“Differences in fluoride exposure between two racial groups were observed. These differences are complex and need to be better defined.”
This does not warrant claims of African-Americans being more susceptible than whites. Nor is the information “explosive” as the FAN press release claims.
Another study cited was Williams, J. E., & Zwemer, J. D. (1990). Community Water Fluoride Levels, Preschool Dietary Patterns, and the Occurrence of Fluoride Enamel Opacities. Journal of Public Health Dentistry, 50(4), 276–281. But the study actually doesn’t back up the FAN claims as these authors found:
“higher TSIF scores [an index of dental fluorosis prevalence] were associated with city children significantly more than with county children. There was no association of TSIF scores either in the city children or the county children with respect to gender, race, preschool dietary patterns, or dentifrice ingestion.”
Another cited paper is Butler, W. J., Segreto, V., & Collins, E. (1985). Prevalence of dental mottling in school-aged lifetime residents of 16 Texas communities. American Journal of Public Health, 75(12), 1408–1412. These authors found “children who were White or had a Spanish surname had about the same prevalence of mottling while Blacks had a higher prevalence.” This appears to support the FAN claim but air conditioning in the children’s home and total dissolved solids and zinc in the drinking water also influenced prevalence of mottling. Significant mottling only occurred where drinking water fluoride concentrations were over 2 ppm making the conclusions irrelevant to CWF where concentrations are usually in the range 0.7 to 1 ppm
Finally, they cite Beltrán-Aguilar, E. D. ., & Gooch, B. F. ; (n.d.). Surveillance for Dental Caries, Dental Sealants, Tooth Retention, Edentulism, and Enamel Fluorosis — United States, 1988–1994 and 1999–2002. Yes, this study did show African American had a slightly higher prevalence of very mild and mild dental fluorosis, as the figure below shows.
They did not advance an explanation for this but note that “different hypotheses have been proposed, including biologic susceptibility or greater fluoride intake.” One could also suggest differences in residential location – especially as some of the people in the study had moderate or severe dental fluorosis indicating they were likely consuming drinking water with a fluoride content above the level recommended for CWF.
But we could make the same comparisons with tooth decay data from this study (see figure below):
Perhaps we should be jumping up and down about the increased racial sensitivity of African-Americans and Mexican Americans to the disease of tooth decay and claim that this information has been suppressed or nothing done about the problem.
Or perhaps, as is most likely happening, authorities are just getting on with the job of working out how to deal with health inequalities in different ethnic groups.
This campaign is just another of the scaremongering attempts of Connett’s crowd. Appealing to conspiracy theorists it uses a memo obtained as part of a freedom of information inquiry to imply a cover-up. The campaing cites studies which do show real differences but do not show they result from differences in sensitivity. And they are not large enough to justify the extreme language of the press release and reports.
Of course there may be similarities in the dental health conditions of disadvantaged ethnic groups in the US, and in New Zealand and Australia, but the way some anti-fluoride propagandists have used these press releases to “prove” that NZ Maori and Australian Aborigine are adversely effected by CWF borders on naive racism.