Both Sides

by Dan Montgomery

February 26, 1996


Years ago, I lived in Utah and had occasion to go to a dentist to have a cavity filled. Dr. B, the dentist, asked me if I had any allergies.

I said, "I have an allergy to fluoride toothpaste."

On hearing this, the dentist came alive as if all the other patients had been a bore and here was a break in the day's monotony. "Fluoride doesn't cause allergies," he declared with a voice of authority.

"Well, whatever it does, it makes me sick," I said timidly.

"How does it make you sick?"

"It makes my teeth hurt."

"Fluoride does not make anybody's teeth hurt. If your teeth hurt, something else is making your teeth hurt. Have you been brushing your teeth regularly?"

"Yes."

"You need fluoride to protect your teeth. If your teeth hurt, it is likely that you haven't been getting enough fluoride. How long did you use fluoride?"

"I used it for three years until a few months ago when I realized it was damaging my teeth."

"You think fluoride damaged your teeth. Here, let me give you a book to take home and study." He went out of the room and brought back a huge looseleaf book. "This book is published by the U.S. Public Health Service. It presents the arguments for both sides so that anyone can judge for himself. You can trust the Public Health Service to give you accurate and honest information. Those people who say fluoridation causes allergies have been discredited, but read this book for yourself and make your own decision," he said, as if he had relieved himself of a burden upon his conscience to tell me that fluoridation is good for me. "Now, let's get on with the examination."

He examined my teeth and found that I did have one cavity. He filled the cavity and used a sprayer with a hose attachment to his rack of dental equipment for the rinse water. I put on my coat to leave and he said, "Don't forget this book."

He handed me the Public Health Service book. It must have weighed ten pounds. Back at my apartment, I leafed through the book for an overview. Each page was encased in clear plastic. The first half of the book was pro-fluoridation and the second half of the book contained excerpts of articles written by Dr. George L. Waldbott. The gist of the articles in favor of fluoridation went something like this: "We have heard it on good authority that fluoridation is very beneficial for everyone's dental health. Statistical studies have shown that fluoridation does no harm." As I read these articles I could see that they were generally summary statements written by doctors and dentists. They did not really say what harm they had looked for and had not found, nor did they explain how they had looked for it. The excerpts of Dr. Waldbott's writing were brief and did not really give enough information to see what his train of thought was when he wrote his scientific articles. He used very technical language which was difficult for a non-medical person to understand. When I tried to look up the original citations of Waldbott's articles in scientific journals in the university library, I found that the citations were incorrect. It was not one or two citations which were incorrect, every last one of them was incorrect. Now, I wanted to get to the bottom of this mystery. I looked for any books written by George Waldbott and found a couple. In them I found the correct citations to his scientific publications. I looked them up and saw that Dr. Waldbott was an allergist who lived in Warren, Michigan which is a suburb of Detroit. Some of his patients were from Grand Rapids, the first major town to be fluoridated for statistical experiments. He used the standard procedures of an allergist or toxicologist for tracing the causes of symptoms. In medical terminology, there is a variety of illnesses that we as laypersons think of as allergies. Dr. Waldbott called them by their technical names. He did not claim that fluoridation caused immunologic allergies in any direct way. He found that patients were getting symptoms of toxicity from chronically drinking fluoridated water and he could demonstrate that when his fluoride toxicity patients carefully avoided fluoridated water for drinking or preparing food and other sources of fluoride their symptoms went away. I didn't know much about medicine, but I was convinced that anyone could see that Dr. Waldbott had been misrepresented by the Public Health Service. He ought to be given a fair hearing. What kind of men were these who thought it so important to mislead the public? Until then, I had always believed that government officials were basically honest and that if any bureacrat misused the taxpayer's money to publish misleading or false scientific information, he would be promptly discovered and punished. That was in 1971, before the Watergate scandal became a national spectacle. I thought of how motivated Dr. B had been and how confident he was that I would find that the Public Health Service knows what is best for me. It was a turning point in my life. Never again did I blindly trust scientific "authorities." I looked at scientific pronouncements with an objectivity and critical eye that I had not had before.

I returned for a followup appointment with Dr. B. I came into his office and said, "I read this book, but I would like more time to study the footnotes."

"What is your opinion about fluoride, now?" he said with a smile and an anticipation that he was about to triumph.

"I think Dr. Waldbott had some things to say that should be taken seriously," I said.

He frowned, "Give me that book. You've read it enough." He took the book from my hands and put it away.

I mustered enough fortitude to ask a question that had been bothering me all week. My gums had been sore all week and my teeth throbbed with pain for several days after I had left his office. I suspected that it was the rinse water that he had used which caused these symptoms. "Did the water in your office have any fluoride in it?"

Dr. B beamed, "Yes. The water in my office goes through a system that puts fluoride in it. You needed it. I'll bet your teeth feel better, don't they?"

"I think this is why my gums were sore and my teeth ached--" I said.

"There isn't enough fluoride in that water to do anybody any harm. It's only one part per million which is the same amount which is added to the water in many cities and I don't know why they don't fluoridate the water in this town," he said with a condescending smile.

I stood up straight. "Something in your water caused this pain. If it wasn't the fluoride, what was it?" I said with the resolve to tell him that a fact is a fact.

"Well, maybe you just think it did."

Now I was angry. "I told you I had an allergy to fluoride and then you gave me some fluoride. That isn't right. That isn't what I paid you to do."

Dr. B, suddenly realizing his predicament, went pale. He began to shake. "Who sent you?"

"What do you mean?"

"That Church sent you, didn't they? They don't like me practicing in this town. Who did this? Who tried to set me up?" He was still shaking.

"I don't know what you're talking about. Nobody sent me. I just don't see why you want to do something that you should have known makes me sick and then you don't even care about me," I said.

"Get out of here! Get out of my office!" he yelled.

I left his office thinking, "How could I have let myself have this man for a dentist? What do I have to do to find a good dentist?" It's been many years since these events really did happen. The quotations are not exact, but they represent the substance of what was said.

Copyright 2002 Daniel A. Montgomery Home | Editor's Life