Two early papers (Rapaport 1956, 1963) reported an association between elevated rates of Down’s syndrome and high water fluoride concentrations. Rapaport also was the first to suggest that maternal age might be an important consideration, with the association between drinking water fluoride concentrations and elevated rates of Down’s syndrome particularly pronounced among young mothers. However, the impact of Rapaport’s observations is limited by some significant methodological concerns, including the use of crude rates as opposed to maternal age-specific rates, limited case ascertainment, and the presentation of crude rates per 100,000 population as opposed to per live births. Several subsequent reports (Berry 1958; Needleman et al. 1974; Erickson et al. 1976; Erickson 1980) studied the association of Down’s syndrome with fluoride or water fluoridation. Berry (1958) found little difference in rates of Down’s syndrome between communities with relatively high and low water fluoride concentrations; however, the populations evaluated were small, and maternal age was not considered in the analysis. Needleman et al. (1974) found a positive association between water fluoride concentration and Down’s syndrome incidence when crude incidence rates were compared; however, this apparent association was largely lost when the comparison was limited to before and after fluoridation for a subset of towns that introduced water fluoridation, an attempt to partially control for maternal age. Erickson et al. (1976) used data from two sources, the Metropolitan Atlanta Congenital Malformations Surveillance Program and the National Cleft Lip and Palate Intelligence Service. The metropolitan Atlanta database is particularly robust, with detailed retrospective ascertainment. Erickson et al. (1976) found no overall association between the crude incidence rates of Down’s syndrome and water fluoridation; however, their data suggested a possible increased rate of Down’s syndrome among births to mothers below age 30. Takahashi (1998) grouped Erickson’s metropolitan Atlanta data for mothers under 30 and calculated a highly significant association (P < 0.005) between fluoridated water and Down’s syndrome births to young mothers. A recent review (Whiting et al. 2001) has evaluated the quality of the literature and concluded that an association between water fluoride concentration and Down’s syndrome incidence is inconclusive. While the committee agrees with this overall characterization, the review by Whiting et al. was problematic. For example, it described all six studies as ecological and all but one (Rapaport 1956) as having found the majority of cases. However, some studies were partially ecologic, assigning exposure at the group level but categorizing case status and limited covariates (age, race) at the individual level. Erickson (1980) ascertained cases via birth certificates and explicitly acknowledged problems with this approach.

Overall, the available studies of fluoride effects on human development

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement