Conspiracy Watch: Fluoride as Pinko Plot

Since the 1940s, Americans have been swallowing fluoride with their drinking water. Is it time to stop?

Illustration: Peter Hoey

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the conspiracy: Starting in the mid-’40s, American cities began putting fluoride into their drinking water under the guise of preventing childhood tooth decay. Freedom-loving Americans found it hard to swallow. As Dr. Strangelove‘s Brig. General Jack D. Ripper put it, “Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face?”

the conspiracy theorists: The John Birch Society peddled the fluoride-as-pinko-plot idea for many years. (One Bircher recently quipped, “Don’t be surprised if we learn soon that the fluoride in Chinese toothpaste is nuclear waste from North Korea.”) Today, fluoridation opponents include scientists and environmentalists who say overexposure can cause serious health effects. The Fluoride Action Network, the most prominent anti-fluoridation group, was cofounded by former Sierra Club executive director and ecoguru David Brower.

meanwhile, back on earth: Those toothless paranoids may have been partly right. Though fluoride’s not eroding our moral fiber, research shows that too much of it eats away teeth and bones. Which is a problem, since it’s not just in 59 percent of Americans’ water; it’s also turning up in foods made with fluoridated water, including ice cream, hot dogs, and beer.

Kookiness Rating: tin foil hat (1=maybe they’re on to something, 5=break out the tinfoil hat!)

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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