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Water fluoridation
Water fluoridation

Water fluoridation

Brain Function & Lowered IQ Levels

Fluoride’s ability to damage the brain is one of the most active areas of fluoride research today. Over 400 studies have found that fluoride is a neurotoxin (a chemical that can damage the brain). This research includes:

Based on this accumulating body of research, several prestigious reviews — including a report authored by the U.S. National Research Council, a meta-analysis published by a team of Harvard scientists, a review published in The Lancet, and a 2017 U.S.-funded 12-year study that found a link between fluoride in the urine of pregnant women and lower measures of intelligence in their children — have raised red flags about the potential for low levels of fluoride to harm brain development in some members of the population.

In 2006, the National Research Council (NRC) stated that “it is apparent that fluorides have the ability to interfere with the functions of the brain.” In addition to calling for U.S.-based research on fluoride’s IQ effects, the NRC expressed concern about fluoride’s possible contribution to dementia. According to the NRC:

“Studies of populations exposed to different concentrations of fluoride should be undertaken to evaluate neurochemical changes that may be associated with dementia. Consideration should be given to assessing effects from chronic exposure, effects that might be delayed or occur late-in-life, and individual susceptibility.”

In July of 2012, a team of Harvard researchers published a “meta-analysis” of 27 studies that have investigated the relationship between fluoride and human intelligence. (Choi 2012) The overwhelming majority of these studies found that fluoride exposure was associated with reduced IQ in children. In fact, 26 of the 27 studies that met the Harvard team’s inclusion criteria found a relationship between elevated fluoride and reduced IQ. The Harvard team thus concluded that fluoride’s effect on the developing brain of children should be a “high research priority” in countries like the U.S. where, despite mass fluoridation programs, no studies have yet been conducted to investigate the issue.

In March of 2014, the prestigious medical journal The Lancet published a review of “developmental neurotoxicity” which concluded that fluoride is one of only 11 chemicals that is known to damage the developing brain. Developmental neurotoxins are capable of causing widespread brain disorders such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, and other cognitive impairments.  The harm is often untreatable and permanent.

The authors of The Lancet review, which included Harvard scientist Philippe Grandjea, write:

“Our very great concern is that children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognized toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviors, truncating future achievements, and damaging societies, perhaps most seriously in developing countries.”

In a bulletin posted on the Harvard School of Public Health website, Grandjean notes that:

“Fluoride seems to fit in with lead, mercury, and other poisons that cause chemical brain drain. The effect of each toxicant may seem small, but the combined damage on a population scale can be serious, especially because the brain power of the next generation is crucial to all of us.”

Fluoride is a highly toxic substance that can cause a range of adverse health effects:


According to the National Toxicology Program (NTP), “the preponderance of evidence” from laboratory studies indicates that fluoride is a mutagen (a compound that can cause genetic damage). A chemical that can cause genetic damage is one that can likely cause, or contribute to, the development of cancer.

While the concentrations of fluoride causing genetic damage in laboratory studies are generally far higher than the concentrations found in human blood, there are certain “microenvironments” in the body (e.g., the bones, bladder, kidneys, oral cavity, pineal gland) where cells can be exposed to fluoride levels that are comparable to those causing genetic damage in the laboratory. Moreover, some research has found that cells of primates (including great apes and humans) are more susceptible to fluoride’s mutagenic effects than cells of rodents. These factors may help explain why seven studies since the 1990s have found evidence of genetic damage in humans with high fluoride exposures. (Some studies have not found this association.)

The concern that fluoride can cause cancer has been fueled by evidence linking it to a serious form of bone cancer known as osteosarcoma. This evidence includes a government animal study as well as several studies of human populations living in the United States.

Osteosarcoma is a rare, but deadly, form of cancer that strikes primarily during the teenage years. A national case control study published in 2006 by Harvard scientists found that boys exposed to fluoridated water during their 6th, 7th, and 8th years of life (the mid-childhood growth spurt) had a significantly elevated risk of developing osteosarcoma during adolescence. (Bassin 2006). The sex-specific link between fluoride and osteosarcoma in young males is consistent with the government’s animal study, (NTP 1990), which found osteosarcomas in the fluoride-treated male rats, but not the female ones. It is also consistent with previous studies by the National Cancer Institute and New Jersey Department of Health, which both found associations between fluoridation and osteosarcoma in young males, but not females. (Cohn 1992; NCI 1990)

Although a number of studies have found no association between fluoride and osteosarcoma, the Harvard study by Bassin is the only study to ever carefully considered the “age-specific” risk of fluoride exposure. As the renowned epidemiologist Kenneth Rothman explained to the Wall Street Journal:

“‘If there were an adverse effect of fluoride, it’s possible an effect of early exposure would be manifest in the first 20 years of life – but not after.’ Looking at all ages, in other words, could conceal any link between fluoridation and cancer.”

It is widely acknowledged that the fluoride/osteosarcoma connection is a biologically plausible one. When the connection between a chemical and a cancer is biologically plausible, studies that detect an association between the two are taken more seriously, as the association is less likely to be a random fluke.

The plausibility of a fluoride/osteosarcoma connection is grounded in the three considerations:

  1. Bone is the principal site of fluoride accumulation, particularly during the growth spurts of childhood;
  2. Fluoride is a mutagen when present at sufficient concentrations; and
  3. Fluoride stimulates the proliferation of bone-forming cells (osteoblasts), which may ”increase the risk for some of the dividing cells to become malignant.” (NRC 2006).

In addition to osteosarcoma, a number of studies of fluoride-exposed workers have found associations between airborne fluoride exposure and both bladder and lung cancer. Although fluoride’s association with these cancers has generally been attributed to poly aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) — a non-fluoride airborne contaminant — a twenty-year study of a workplace with no PAH exposure found a similarly elevated rate of both bladder and lung cancer in the fluoride-exposed workers. (Grandjean 2004). Based on these findings, the authors concluded that “fluoride should be considered a possible cause of bladder cancer and a contributory cause of primary lung cancer.

Here’s a full list of health effects with links to additional information from the Fluoride Action Network:

  1. Arthritis
  2. Bone Fracture
  3. Brain Effects
  4. IQ Studies
  5. Mother-Offspring Studies
  6. Cancer
  7. Cardiovascular Disease
  8. Dental Fluorosis
  9. Diabetes
  10. Endocrine Disruption
  11. Gastrointestinal Effects
  12. Hypersensitivity
  13. Kidney Disease
  14. Male Fertility
  15. Pineal Gland
  16. Skeletal Fluorosis
  17. Thyroid Disease

Other Sources of Fluoride

When fluoride was first added to water in the 1940s as a means of preventing tooth decay, not a single dental product contained fluoride: no fluoride toothpastes, no fluoride mouthrinses, no fluoride varnishes, and no fluoride gels. In the past 60 years, as one fluoride product after another entered the market, exposure to fluoride increased considerably, particularly among children.

Exposure from other sources has increased as well. Other sources include processed foods made with fluoridated water, fluoride-containing pesticides, bottled teas, fluorinated pharmaceuticals, teflon pans, and mechanically deboned chicken. Taken together,  the glut of fluoride sources in the modern diet has created a toxic cocktail, one that has caused a dramatic increase in dental fluorosis (a tooth defect caused by excess fluoride intake) over the past 60 years. The problem with fluoride, therefore, is not that children are receiving too little, but that they are receiving too much. 

Even advocates of fluoridation have begun to recognize this problem. In January 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced its recommendation that water fluoridation programs (which generally add 1 ppm fluoride to water) should lower the levels added to 0.7 ppm. This reduction, however, does little to solve the problem, as many children will continue to ingest more fluoride than is recommended, or safe.

  • Dental Products: Many dental products now contain fluoride, including over 95% of toothpaste. Studies show that a significant number of children swallow more fluoride from toothpaste alone than is recommended as a total daily ingestion.
  • Processed Beverages & Foods: Even if you don’t live in a community that adds fluoride to its water supply, you will still be exposed to fluoridated drinking water. This is because once fluoride is added en masse to water it winds in almost all processed beverages and foods. In the U.S., studies have shown that sodas, juices, sports drinks, beers, and many other processed foods, including infant foods, now have elevated fluoride levels.
  • Pesticides: Due its toxicity, fluoride is used in some pesticides to kill insects and other pests. As a result of fluoride pesticide use, some food products–particularly grape products, dried fruit, dried beans, cocoa powder, and walnuts–have high levels of fluoride. Read more.
  • Tea Drinks: Tea plants absorb fluoride from the soil. As a result, tea leaves–particularly old tea leaves–contain high levels of fluoride. Brewed black tea averages about 3 to 4 parts ppm fluoride, while commercial iced tea drinks contain between 1 and 4 ppm. As a result of these elevated levels, numerous studies have linked excessive tea consumption to a bone disease (skeletal fluorosis) caused by too much fluoride intake.
  • Fluorinated Pharmaceuticals: Many pharmaceuticals are fluorinated, meaning they contain a carbon-fluorine bond. fluorine.” Although the carbon-fluoride bond in most drugs is strong enough to resist breaking down into fluoride within the body, this is not always the case as research has found that some fluorinated drugs, including cipro, do break down into fluoride and can thus be a major source of fluoride exposure for some individuals.
  • Mechanically Deboned Meat: Foods made with mechanically separated meat (e.g., chicken fingers, nuggets, etc), contain elevated levels of fluoride due to the contamination from bone particles that occurs during the mechanical deboning processed. Mechanically processed chicken meats have the highest levels, with chicken sticks containing an average of 3.6 ppm. Read more
  • Teflon Pans: Cooking food, or boiling water, in teflon pans may increase the fluoride content of food. In one study, it was found that boiling water in a teflon pan for just 15 minutes added an additional 2 ppm of fluoride to the water, thus bringing the final concentration to 3 ppm. Read more (Full & Parkins 1975).
  • Workplace Exposure: Fluoride is a common air contaminant in industrial workplaces. As a result, workers in many heavy industries — including the aluminum, fertilizer, iron, oil refining, semi-conductor, and steel industries — can be routinely exposed to high levels of fluoride exposure. In addition to being a significant risk factor for respiratory disease; airborne fluorides can be a huge daily source fluoride intake.

The mass fluoridation of water, and the resulting contamination of processed foods, can make it seem like everything has elevated levels of fluoride. The good news, however, is that most fresh foods and fresh water contains very little fluoride. As a general rule, therefore, one will receive very little fluoride when drinking spring water and eating unprocessed fruit, vegetables, grains, eggs, milk, and meat. While there are some exceptions to this rule (e.g., seafood, tea, water from deep wells, and fresh fruit/vegetables sprayed with fluoride pesticides), it is a good rule of thumb to go by if you wish to reduce your fluoride exposure. To learn more, click here.


Fluoride is a major industrial pollutant, one which has caused widespread damage to fluoride-exposed workers and downwind communities. During the Cold War, fluoride was responsible for more litigation against U.S. industry than all other air pollutants combined. Although the development of modern pollution control technology has resulted in significant reductions in fluoride emissions, millions of workers around the world remain at risk for respiratory, neurological, and bone diseases from fluoride exposure, and downwind communities remain at risk in countries with weak environmental regulation.

FAN has distilled the following information from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Toxic Release Inventory, with these categories:

The TRI has consistently reported the fluoride releases from coal-fired electric utilities, which are among the largest emitters of fluoride in the U.S. Read more…

Infant Exposure

Of all age groups, the fetus is the most impacted by fluoride’s neurotoxicity. In a series of Mother-Offspring studies we learned that high levels of urinary fluoride in a pregnant woman has the potential to lower her offspring’s IQ. Of great concern is that pregnant women living in fluoridated communities have high urinary fluoride levels. Read a review of each of the six Mother-Offspring studies.

The next most vulnerable to fluoride’s toxicity is the infant and it’s due to their small size. Infants receive up to 400% more fluoride (per pound of body weight) than adults consuming the same level of fluoride in water. Not only do infants receive a larger dose, they have an impaired ability to excrete fluoride through their kidneys. Healthy adults can excrete more than 50% of an ingested fluoride dose; infants, by contrast, can only excrete 15 to 20%. This leads to a greater build-up of fluoride in the body, and may help explain why infants fed formula made with fluoridated water suffer higher rates of dental fluorosis, a discoloration of the teeth caused by excessive fluoride ingestion during childhood.

Teeth are not the only tissue that can be affected by fluoride exposure during infancy. A baby’s blood brain barrier is not fully developed at birth, and this allows fluoride, a neurotoxin, greater access to the brain than in later periods in life. Over 30 studies have associated elevated fluoride exposure with neurological impairment in children, which may, in part, result from fluoride’s affect on the thyroid gland. In light of the serious nature of these effects, and the lack of benefit from pre-eruptive ingestion of fluoride, basic precautionary principles strongly counsel against exposing infants to any fluoride.

Concerns about the wisdom of supplementing an infant’s diet with fluoride are being voiced by even ardent pro-fluoride dental organizations. In 1994, the American Dental Association (ADA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) reversed their decades-long policy of recommending that doctors prescribe fluoride supplements to newborn infants. While these organizations have refrained from taking the obvious step of recommending that fluoridated water not be be added to infant formula (a practice that exposes infants to nearly 4 times more fluoride than supplements) a growing number of prominent dental researchers have made this recommendation.


  • The Mother-Offspring Studies: These studies tested the urinary fluoride levels of the pregnant woman and then paired those findings with the cognitive tests of her offspring. The higher the level of fluoride in the urine, the lower the IQ in the offspring. In each of these studies, the IQ of the offspring from women living in fluoridated communities was lower than women living in non-fluoridated communities. See also the 2018 Canadian national survey of urinary fluoride levels in pregnant women.
  • New Understandings: Read the five scientific discoveries that finally prompted pro-fluoride dental organizations to publicly recognize the problems with exposing infants to fluoride.
  • New Recommendations: See the new recommendations from pro-fluoride organizations and researchers on fluoride exposure during infancy.
  • 5 Ways to Protect Your Child: Learn the five most important things you can do to protect a newborn child from fluoride.

HELP START AN INFANT WARNING CAMPAIGN: The Fluoride Action Network is currently working with individuals and organizations throughout the United States to pass legislation on both the state and city level requiring public disclosure of the the risks that fluoridated water poses to infants. In 2012, FAN helped persuade the State of New Hampshire to pass by a landslide vote a bill requiring water departments in the state to notify consumers of the fluorosis risk posed by infant consumption of fluoridated water. To learn more and contribute to FAN’s effort on this project, click here.

HELP START A MOMS2B AVOID FLUORIDE CAMPAIGN: The Moms2B campaign was launched in April 2018 to advise pregnant women to avoid fluoride, particularly fluoridated water, because of the potential for harm to the brain of the fetus.  Read more about the campaign here. Please join us.

Low-Income & Minority Communities at Heightened Risk of Fluoride Toxicity

Low-income communities are more susceptible to fluoride’s toxicity for several reasons. Health conditions that render people more vulnerable to fluoride exposure (e.g., kidney disease and diabetes) are more prevalent among low-income populations. Nutrient deficiencies are also more prevalent and voluminous research spanning back to the 1930s clearly shows that populations with nutrient deficiencies are harmed by fluoride exposures otherwise safe for the general population. As but one example, a 1952 study in the Journal of the American Dental Association warned:

“The data from this and other investigations suggest that malnourished infants and children, especially if deficient in calcium intake, may suffer from the effects of water containing fluorine while healthy children would remain unaffected…Thus low levels of fluoride ingestion which are generally considered to be safe for the general population may not be safe for malnourished infants and children. Therefore, the nutritional status must be carefully assessed and guarded in areas with endemic fluorosis. Nutritional studies should be included in any comprehensive program of fluoridation of water with special attention to chronically ailing infants and children.” (Massler & Schour 1952).

In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control published the results of a national survey of dental fluorosis conducted between 1999 and 2002. The survey’s results show that black children suffer significantly higher rates of dental fluorosis than children from other racial groups. Dental fluorosis is a defect of teeth enamel caused by too much fluoride exposure, which can cause disfiguring stains and pitting on the teeth. Not only do black children suffer higher rates of fluorosis, they suffer more severe forms of the condition.  The CDC’s national survey found that the rate of the most disfiguring form of fluorosis (i.e., moderate/severe fluorosis) is nearly twice as high in the black community as the white community. Moderate/severe fluorosis can cause widespread brown stains, and can lead to erosion and deterioration of the teeth. Read more…

In terms of the health care system, up to 80% of dentists now refuse to accept Medicaid patients. For many low-income individuals, the only dental care they can receive is in the emergency room. This problem could be partially solved by allowing dental therapists to perform routine dental services (e.g., drilling and filling), which research shows they are perfectly competent to do. However, the nation’s leading dental trade organization, the American Dental Association, adamantly opposes the right of low-income patients to receive care from anyone but licensed dentists–a position that neatly aligns with the ADA’s financial self-interest.

Communities Are Starting to Get the Message

In recent years, communities throughout the United States and Canada have started to reassess the conventional wisdom of fluoridating their water.  Many of these communities, including over 50 since 2010, are reaching the obvious conclusion: when stripped of its endorsements, well-meaning intentions, and PR-praise, fluoridation simply makes no sense.

Europe reached this conclusion a long time ago. It is now time for the U.S. and other English-speaking nations to  follow suit.


“[T]he political profluoridation stance has evolved into a dogmatic, authoritarian, essentially antiscientific posture, one that discourages open debate of scientific issues.” – Dr. Edward Groth, Senior Scientist, Consumers Union, 1991.

“Journal editors often have refused for political reasons to publish information that raises questions about fluoridation.” – Chemical & Engineering News, August 1, 1988.

“We are left with compelling evidence that powerful interests with high financial stakes have colluded to prematurely close honest discussion and investigation into fluoride toxicity.” – Dr. Sheldon Krimsky, Tufts University, August 16, 2004.

“The Public Health Service, unfortunately, has locked itself into a position where it has made this statement on the record that there is absolutely no hazard to fluoridating public water supplies and the matter is closed. Now, that, of course, is immediately an unscientific approach.” – Ralph Nader, Consumer Advocate, 1971.



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Chronological History of Events Related to Fluoridation

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