Early in the 20th century, dentists discovered that fluoride reduced the number of cavities in their patients’ teeth. Soon, amidst much debate and rancor, fluoride was regularly added to American public drinking water supplies. Fluoridation has been hailed by some as a triumph of public health but it was also, as historian Frank Zelko points out this month, a profitable way to put to use a waste byproduct from the production of fertilizer.

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