Study: Early Fluoride Exposure Not Found to Have Impact on Childhood Development

The measures of children’s emotional and behavioral development were assessed by the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), and executive functioning was measured by the Behavior Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF).

Exposure to fluoridated water among young children did not show signs of a negative association with child emotional and behavioral development and executive functioning in their adolescence, according to the authors of a follow-up study conducted by the University of Queensland Faculty of Health and Behavioral Sciences School of Dentistry in Australia. During the study, the investigators examined the impact of early childhood exposure to water fluoridation on measures of school-age executive functioning and emotional and behavioral development in a population-based sample.

This follow-up study used information from Australia’s National Child Oral Health Study of 2012 to 2014, and then contacted the children who were between 5 to 10 years of age at baseline during the original study after 7 to 8 years. However, the investigators ensured they contacted the children for the follow up before they had turned 18 years of age.

Using residential history and postcode-level fluoride levels in public tap water, the investigators were able to calculate the percent lifetime exposed to fluoridated water (LEFW) from birth to age of 5 years. The measures of children’s emotional and behavioral development were assessed by the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), and executive functioning was measured by the Behavior Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF).

The multivariable regression models were created to compare the associations between the exposure and the primary outcomes, which were controlled for covariates. Further, an equivalence test was conducted to compare the primary outcomes of those who had 100%LEFW compared to those with 0%LEFW.

Additionally, a sensitivity analysis was conducted in which a total of 2682 children completed SDQ and BRIEF with mean scores of 7.0 and 45.3, respectively. Those with a lower percentage of LEFW were seen to have poorer scores on the SDQ and BRIEF. Further, multivariable regression models reported no association between exposure to fluoridated water and the SDQ and BRIEF scores. Some factors associated with poorer SDQ/BRIEF scores included low household income, indigenous identity, and having a neurodevelopment diagnosis.

Due to these results, the study authors concluded that exposure to fluoridated water during the first 5 years of life was not demonstrated to be associated with an impact on child emotional and behavioral development and executive functioning. Additionally, children who had been exposed to fluoridated water for their early childhood had their measures of emotional, behavioral development, and executive functioning at least equivalent to that of children who did not have the exposure to fluoridated water.

“Water fluoridation is unquestionably effective in preventing dental caries, and this study is an important addition to the body of literature documenting the safety of water fluoridation,” said International Association for Dental Research (IADR) president Brian O’Connell, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, in a press release. “The IADR recently reaffirmed its support for water fluoridation as this public health measure has a high benefit/cost ratio and benefits deprived communities the most, thus reducing health inequalities.”

REFERENCE

Study Finds No Adverse Effects of Early Fluoride Exposure on Childhood Development. IADR. October 10, 2022. Accessed October 18, 2022. https://www.iadr.org/about/news-reports/press-releases/study-finds-no-adverse-effects-early-fluoride-exposure-childhood

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