In the 1930s, scientists learned that small amounts of fluoride naturally occurring in water could protect teeth from decay, and the idea of artificially adding fluoride to public water supplies to achieve the same effect arose. In the 1940s and early 1950s, a number of studies were completed to determine whether fluoride could have harmful effects.

The research suggested that the possibility of harm was small. In the early 1950s, Canadian and US medical, dental, and public health bodies all endorsed water fluoridation. I argue in this article that some early concerns about the toxicity of fluoride were put aside as evidence regarding the effectiveness and safety of water fluoridation mounted and as the opposition was taken over by people with little standing in the scientific, medical, and dental communities. The sense of optimism that infused postwar science and the desire of dentists to have a magic bullet that could wipe out tooth decay also affected the scientific debate.

In 1941, almost 10% of all recruits for the US military were rejected because they did not have 6 opposing teeth on their upper and lower jaws. US dental health was so poor before WWII that it was the leading cause of rejection.


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