Residents of New Jersey are embroiled in a debate over whether the state should require each town to fluoridate its water, something that almost every other state does as a matter of routine. The New York Times reports on the debate between medical groups, who say that fluoride is the best way to prevent tooth decay in children, and opponents who make arguments--based, officials say, on questionable science--including that fluoride is a carcinogen and it lowers I.Q. in children.
Similar bills have failed in the state since 2005, under pressure from the public utilities lobby and municipalities that argue that fluoridation costs too much, environmentalists who say it pollutes the water supply, and antifluoride activists who argue that it causes cancer, lowers I.Q. and amounts to government-forced medicine.
Public health officials argue that the evidence does not support any of those arguments — and to the contrary, that fluoridating the water is the single best weapon in fighting tooth decay, the most prevalent disease among children.
But they also say they are fighting a proliferation of misleading information. While conspiracy theories about fluoride in public water supplies have circulated since the early days of the John Birch Society, they now thrive online, where anyone, with a little help from Google, can suddenly become a medical authority.
"In the age of the Internet, it's very easy to spread many of these rumors," said Barbara F. Gooch, the associate director for science in the Oral Health Division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "People go looking for information about why this is bad, and they find it pretty easily."
So while William Bailey, the acting director of the Oral Health Division and the chief dental officer of the United States Public Health Service, calls it "the ideal public health measure," opponents online argue the unproven allegation that the Nazis used fluoride to sedate concentration camp victims.
Image: Girl brushing her teeth, via Shutterstock.