Fluoride: Health myths and a dance with the red scare

Fluoride: Health myths and a dance with the red scare

By: arron williams&
June 23 2023

Share Article: facebook logo twitter logo linkedin logo
Fluoride: Health myths and a dance with the red scare

Image source: Pixabay

Conspiracy theorists have claimed that “Tap water fluoridation weakens the population” since the 1950s. Through the rise in social media over the past two decades, anti-fluoride conspiracy theories continue to ripple and flow through platforms like TikTok and Facebook. Fluoride is a common target of conspiracies and misinformation, which makes it difficult to discern truth from fiction. 

Fluoride is a natural mineral that is released into water, soil, and air from rocks. It occurs in water naturally, but through a process called fluoridation, extra fluoride is added to drinking water supplies to prevent tooth decay. Water fluoridation was first implemented in the U.S. in 1945 and the first U.K. scheme occurred in 1964 in Birmingham. In the U.K., roughly 6 million people live in areas with fluoridated water schemes. While not all of the U.K. has fluoridated water, many parts of the North East and Midlands do, as their natural fluoride levels are too low. Other areas of the U.K. have access to naturally fluoridated water, such as Newbury and Bath. In the U.S., by 2018, 73 percent of the population using community water systems – about 207 million people – had access to fluoridated water. While there is fluoridated water in the U.K., it is more common in other countries like the U.S. and Brazil. However, chief medical officers plan to add more fluoride to the drinking water in the U.K. Similarly, toothpaste also commonly contains fluoride to help prevent tooth decay and cavities. 

However, many countries – including India, Belgium, and Greece – do not practice artificial water fluoridation.

Is fluoride hazardous to human health?

Safety concerns and claims about the dangers to human health from fluoridated tap water and toothpaste are ever prevalent online. However, the level of fluoride in drinking water and toothpaste is not considered dangerous to human health.

In 2021 the CDC published a statement on the safety of community water fluoridation, commenting that expert panels of scientists had reviewed and considered peer-reviewed literature and found no convincing evidence that community water fluoridation was linked with adverse effects. It also found no link to other disorders or an increased risk of “cancer, Down syndrome, heart disease, osteoporosis, and bone fracture, immune disorders, low intelligence, renal disorders, Alzheimer's disease, or allergic reactions.” 

Others claim that fluoridated water is a neurotoxin; however, scientific studies evaluating these claims have refuted them. Evidence shows so far that fluoride intake, even in individuals with a relatively high intake, is below levels necessary to cause adverse effects. This evidence primarily discusses studies about fluoride levels in Europe. It concludes that fluoride does not act as a developmental neurotoxicant at current exposure levels in Europe.

These claims were also evaluated by Public Health Ontario, which found no evidence that fluoridated water was a neurotoxin and that it does not impair children’s neurological development. This review also addressed a study drawing connections between tap water fluoride and ADHD. The study was heavily critiqued due to methodological limitations lack of consideration for other variables of causation. Additionally, The World Health Organization (WHO) told Logically Facts that “there is some mixed evidence that indicates that fluoride may have some effects on IQ. However, there is no direct evidence associated with fluoride at levels from water fluoridation. The associations found at higher fluoride levels than water fluoridation require further investigation.”

While studies have investigated the effects of tap water fluoride on neurological development, the correlation between fluoridated water consumption and neurological changes does not entail that fluoride is the source of causation. Research into the potential adverse effects of tap water fluoride is still ongoing, and the current body of evidence does not support claims of adverse effects.

However, fluoride can cause dental fluorosis if children’s teeth are exposed to too much fluoride during their development. It can alter the appearance of teeth, although it is uncommon for fluorosis to cause severe enamel changes. Another risk of excessive fluoride consumption is skeletal fluorosis, which is associated with “osteosclerosis, calcification of tendons and ligaments, and bone deformities.” However, the WHO told Logically Facts that they “are not aware of any cases of skeletal fluoridation as a result of artificial fluoridation.” Excessive fluoride consumption usually occurs through the consumption of naturally high-fluoride groundwater. For example, India has naturally high fluoride and an estimated 11.7 million people are at risk due to a lack of access to safe drinking water. The prevalence of skeletal and dental fluorisis is not clear, but data suggests that excessive fluoride concentrations have caused “tens of millions” of cases of dental and skeletal fluorosis. Children whose teeth and bones are still developing are the most susceptible to fluorosis.

Despite a lack of evidence for such claims on social media, these fears are often paired with deeper conspiracies: many social media posts use fluoride health scares as a gateway to discuss nefarious plots by shadowy cabals, mind control, and human psychic potential.  

A Bridge to the New World Order

Conspiracy theorists often assert that tap water is fluoridated and compromised as part of nefarious government plans to control and harm its citizens. These conspiracies are intertwined with the broader New World Order (NWO) conspiracy framework, which asserts that a global elite, deep state, or shadow government is trying to implement a one-world totalitarian government through manufactured disasters and will exert greater control upon citizens. This particular flavour of conspiracy has existed since the 1800s and has links to many other conspiracies. Groups like the Illuminati, Free Masons, and the United Nations have all been targets of the conspiracy. 

When it comes to fluoride, conspiracy theorists claim it’s added to the water to weaken the population and pacify them as a method of control to keep people from rising up and fighting back against government plans and the implementation of the NWO. To support these claims, they cite the same health misinformation that frequently circulates fluoride discussions, despite the lack of scientific evidence. Historical misinformation is also spread to support their claims of pacification, such as claiming Soviet gulags and Nazi concentration camps used it to pacify prisoners. However, there is no evidence that fluoride was used in this way historically or that it has any capability to “pacify” people. 

The concerns about an emerging NWO are evidently myths and likely tied to more nebulous fears or concerns about authoritarianism and spirituality. So, despite a lack of evidence, why do these conspiracies continue to spread online, and where do they come from?

The persistence of the fluoride conspiracy

Conspiracies about fluoride aren’t new. While social media refuses to let them die, many of the prevailing themes stem from anti-communist propaganda. In 1945, water fluoridation in the United States began, and the process continued over the following decades. However, at the same time, cold war tensions were also brewing. The cultural zeitgeist of the Red Scare also caused paranoia about water fluoridation, resulting in fluoride becoming a target for anti-communist literature. Right-wing, anti-communist groups – like the John Birch Society – also framed water fluoridation as an insidious plot. Other claims suggested fluoridation was a type of “Red Warfare” to weaken the American population and implied that the U.S. health service had been infiltrated by communists, as explained by the Science History Institute, in the United States: “The Red Menace of Fluoridation was a warped expression of deep-seated concerns about the role of government in private life.”

These warped concerns about the government intersecting with private life are still at the heart of both fluoride and NWO conspiracies more generally. Fluoridation conspiracies tap into people’s concerns about government overreach and authoritarianism. Social media continues to amplify claims that water fluoridation is being used by a nefarious government to turn a nation communist, and it’s not just fluoride conspiracies that fearmonger about communism. The Great Reset conspiracy, which targets the World Economic Forum, baselessly asserts that the group's plan is to instill communist regimes. Anti-communist rhetoric is still commonplace in the conspiracy world. 

Through articles and actions by anti-fluoride groups like the Fluoride Action Network, health concerns related to fluoride also continue to persist, despite current evidence not supporting the claims. Health misinformation around fluoride has also made its way into U.S. politics, with Arizona congressman Paul Gosar claiming in 2021 that fluoridated water damages the developing brains of children. Discussions about fluoride also resurface every few years in the news and media as new research or studies are published, which further adds to the constant cycle of fluoride skepticism. While fluoride-related health concerns are not inherently related to the deeper conspiracies of shadow organizations, there is frequent overlap, and those that make claims about the NWO latch onto believable health misinformation. 

While there is no single reason that fluoride conspiracies and misinformation persists, its history with the Red Scare, constant societal fears about government authoritarianism and overreach, and its overlap into media and politics all play a role in keeping these conspiracies alive. However, current evidence suggests that there is no reason for you to worry about water fluoridation, as health concerns are unsubstantiated.  

Would you like to submit a claim to fact-check or contact our editorial team?

Global Fact-Checks Completed

We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before