No adverse effects of early fluoride exposure found on childhood development

An Australian study published in the Journal of Dental Research has provided evidence that exposure to fluoridated water is not negatively associated with child emotional and behavioural development, or executive functioning in adolescence.

The study by Prof. Loc Do of the University of Queensland and colleagues examined the effect of early childhood exposure to water fluoridation on measures of school-age executive functioning and emotional and behavioural development. Children aged five to ten years at the baseline were contacted again after seven to eight years.

Per cent lifetime exposed to fluoridated water (%LEFW) from birth to the age of five years was estimated from residential history and postcode-level fluoride levels in public tap water. Measures of children’s emotional and behavioural development were assessed by a strength and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ), and executive functioning was measured by Behaviour Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF).

A total of 2,682 children completed the SDQ and BRIEF. Those with lower %LEFW tended to have poorer scores. Multivariable regression models reported no association between exposure to fluoridated water and the SDQ and BRIEF scores. Low household income, identifying as indigenous, and having a neurodevelopmental diagnosis were associated with poorer SDQ/BRIEF scores.

The study concluded that exposure to fluoridated water during the first five years of life was not associated with altered measures of child emotional and behavioural development and executive functioning. Children who had been exposed to fluoridated water for their whole early childhood had their measures of emotional, behavioural development and executive functioning at least equivalent to that of children who had no exposure to fluoridated water.