Over the past 75 years, health authorities have declared that community water fluoridation—a practice that reaches over 400 million worldwide—is safe. Yet, studies conducted in North America examining the safety of fluoride exposure in pregnancy were nonexistent. When a Canadian study reported that higher fluoride exposure in pregnant women was associated with lower IQ scores in young children, critics attacked the methodology of the study and discounted the significance of the results. Health authorities continued to conclude that fluoride is unequivocally safe, despite four well-conducted studies over the last 3 years consistently linking fluoride exposure in pregnancy with adverse neurodevelopmental effects in offspring. We describe the challenges of conducting fluoride research and the overt cognitive biases we have witnessed in the polarized fluoride debate. The tendency to ignore new evidence that does not conform to widespread beliefs impedes the response to early warnings about fluoride as a potential developmental neurotoxin. Evolving evidence should inspire scientists and health authorities to re-evaluate claims about the safety of fluoride, especially for the fetus and infant for whom there is no benefit.
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We disclose funding from the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) grant #s R21 ES027044 and R01 ES030365.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Till, C., Green, R. Controversy: The evolving science of fluoride: when new evidence doesn’t conform with existing beliefs. Pediatr Res (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41390-020-0973-8