Today we celebrate the birthday of one Harry Gilbert Day.
Harry Day, a nutritional biochemist, helped develop the fluoride additive used in toothpaste to combat tooth decay. The research by Day and his colleagues at Indiana University in the US was funded by Proctor and Gamble (P&G). Stannous fluoride was approved as a tooth paste additive by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1955, and introduced to the public for the first time in a commercial toothpaste by P&G in 1956.
Since its first introduction, fluoride in toothpaste has been the subject of heated debate. The pro-fluoride lobby holds that fluoride is important to prevent tooth decay and, while it can be acutely toxic if swallowed in large amounts, even ‘full strength/adult’ brands of toothpaste contain low enough levels of fluoride to not pose any health risks. Anti-fluoride campaigners, on the other hand, point to a range of scary issues related to the additive. Dementia in humans, due to exposure to fluoride, is said to double in the next two decades, and triple in three. Excess fluoride is also claimed to cause teeth to discolour and crumble, to have detrimental effects on the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, and according to some studies, even lead to bone cancer.
One of the main arguments against fluoride as a toothpaste additive is that it is already included as an additive in much of the world’s drinking water and in mineral and vitamin supplements, and that the combined levels we are exposed to exceed what is safe.
As a result of the debate, more and more non-fluoride toothpastes are being introduced to the market, allowing both sides of the argument access to their preferred option.
As Shakespeare might have said if he was around today: “To fluoridate or not to fluoridate, that is the question.” What is your view on the subject?