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Young Boys and Fluoridated Drinking Water – Questions Remain

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Young Boys and Fluoridated Drinking Water

Young Boys and Fluoridated Drinking Water – Questions Remain

August 23, 2006
By: Jean Johnson for Dental1

It’s been decades since the battles of the 1970s over putting fluoride in drinking water pitted Americans across the country against one another. On the pro side were those who said the benefits for dental health outweighed any concerns those in the purist, environmental crowd had about the artificial pumping up of nature’s original, pristine design.
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Understanding the fluoridated water debate:

There is no criticism of fluoride toothpaste. It is considered a safe, effective and appropriate means of reducing tooth decay.

Only when fluoride is ingested does it appear to increase the odds for osteosarcoma in young boys.

Published scholarly data supports the idea that there is a relationship between bone cancer in boys and fluoridated tap water.

“Yes,” the mainstream argument went. “It was true that the fluoridation of a community’s water supply was a fundamental, man-made alteration of the very fluid upon which life depends. But it was a new world. There was sugar everywhere. People needed some protection against the decay-producing sweet stuff if their teeth weren’t to hit the skids early on, and many of them just wouldn’t get fluoride any other way.”

Fluoride Applied to Teeth Beneficial – Fluoride Ingested in Drinking Water Controversial When it comes to Bone Cancer in Young Boys

On the other side of the coin, those opposed to adding fluoride to the public’s drinking water made the distinction between fluoride that is applied to the teeth either as a treatment in a dental office or nightly by brushing with a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride in that form stays on the teeth where its benefits are needed, those who want fluoride out of the nation’s water supply say.

The rub, this group maintains, comes from when fluoride is ingested the way it is when it’s in our water. What can happen when it is taken internally, studies have shown, is that fluoride can stimulate a form of bone growth that causes cancer in a small percentage of boys younger than 20. Indeed, periodic studies from one in the 1970s to another in 1991 conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service to a recent one from Harvard have all reached those conclusions, according to a 2005 Associated Press story. Other studies, of course, including a New York State Health Department analysis in 1995, stated the AP, have found the opposite to be true. Thus, the door remains open for the ongoing debate.

In 2005 Richard Wiles, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., told the AP that his organization is not opposed to fluoride in toothpastes. When added to water supplies and ingested, however, Wiles is adamant that fluoride puts young boys at risk for a particular type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma.
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Osteosarcoma Update:

This bone cancer is more common in boys than girls, especially those who are taller than average.

Swelling, pain, and broken bones may appear as early symptoms.

Surgery and chemotherapy are the usual courses of treatment, although increasingly instead of amputation, oncologist are using what’s known as limb-salvage surgery in which only sections of bone are removed and filled in with grafts.

Survival rates run between 60 and 80 percent if the cancerous tumors have not spread and the chemotherapy is effective.

More, Wiles implied that the toothpaste manufactures are a powerful force behind maintaining the idea that fluoridated water is not harmful because they fear a drop in sales of fluoride toothpastes. “I think the industry realizes that the public may not make the distinction,” Wiles told the AP. “If fluoride gets a black eye in tap water then the public is going to wonder about this fluoride in my toothpaste.”

Harvard Professor’s Work Reviewed for Research Integrity

It was a year ago that Chester Douglass, DMD, PhD, a Harvard professor who has served as chairman of the Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology in the Harvard School of Dental Medicine since 1978, became the focus of an investigation surrounding the fluoridation of public drinking water.

A look at the professor’s Web page reveals a grandfatherly man with a shock of white hair combed over a broad forehead. He looks more ready for revered emeritus status than he does a review of his scholarly integrity. Nonetheless, Harvard University, working with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said in 2005 that it planned to review Douglass’ 1992 research on fluoridated water and his conclusions surrounding osteosarcoma.

At issue was the professor’s position that the data showed no statistical difference in rates of bone cancer between populations drinking fluoridated and non-fluoridated water. These results were apparently not cause for a flap initially. But in 2001 when a doctoral student of Douglass, Elise Bassin, studied some of the same groups and found that there did appear to be higher rates of this type of bone cancer in young boys – particularly those between the ages of 5 and 10, a new swirl of questions arose and accusations began to fly.

Professional Links To Industry – A Potential Conflict of Interest?

As the Environmental Working Group’s Wiles implies, Douglass served two masters. On the one hand the professor used $1.3 million in grant money and his stature as a Harvard professor to research the question of fluoridated water and bone cancer.

On the other, Douglass serves as the editor-in-chief of the Oral Health Report (OHR), which is funded by the Colgate-Palmolive company. The OHR carries considerable clout as a journal that summarizes advances in dentistry. It is published on a quarterly basis and received by a quarter million dentists in 49 countries and printed in 14 languages.

In Wiles’ mind, this dual allegiance makes Douglass suspect. “It’s safe to say that he appears to be one of the leading members of the fluoride apologists group of scientists,” Wiles told the AP in 2005. “Clearly the fluoride-using industry, the dental industry, has an interest in the image of fluoride as being a healthy, good thing.”

Internal Harvard Investigation Finds No Fault – Advocacy Group Says Poppycock

According to a press release issued by the Environmental Working Group in mid-August 2006, “A closed-door Harvard University panel said yesterday that professor Chester Douglass ‘did not intentionally omit, misrepresent or suppress research results’ of a fluoride bone cancer study.”

Perhaps, says the watchdog group, but not only does that beg the question, the process of review itself is under a cloud.

“The panel’s announcement came in the form of a four-paragraph statement. The panel’s report, like the proceeding the produced it, is secret and not available to the public,” the Environmental Working Group’s statement added.

More, Wiles stated that “This excuse is so tortured, you can see why it took a bunch of Harvard professors a year to concoct it. Are we to believe that Dr. Douglass somehow forgot about the results of research he signed off on [Elise Bassin’s dissertation], that completely contradicted what he’d told tax payers and public officials about bone cancer in boys and drinking fluoridated water?

“Whether or not Dr. Douglass intentionally suppressed and misrepresented these data is irrelevant,” Wiles added. “He deceived the public and health officials about critical research findings for years, and hundreds of boys suffered the consequences. It is a sad day for Harvard when such a blatant financial conflict of interest is acceptable, particularly when the health of children is at stake.”

According to an updated AP story released last week, “The Harvard committees took no position on whether there was a link between fluoride and osteosarcoma.”

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