Cure for children or mass medication? DominiKa Piasecka examines the controversial issue of water fluoridation.
As the shocked nation is still adjusting itself to the unexpected Tory victory, the battle for Labour’s leadership has begun.
One candidate has long been a supporter of adding fluoride – thought to help reduce tooth decay – to British water supplies.
Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham (left) is disliked by anti-fluoridation campaigners who believe he is making a big mistake.
His Labour colleague and former Health Secretary Alan Johnson MP, 65, defends the plans to fluoridate Manchester: “Fluoride gives poor kids rich kids’ teeth.
“In Birmingham where it was introduced into the water supply in 1964, extractions in children under 15 fell from 35,000 a year to 9,000 within 17 years.
“Three independent studies in the past 15 years have shown that it can reduce tooth decay by up to 50 per cent.
“As for the arguments against, they are non-existent, pedalled by cranks and extreme libertarians.
“There is not a shred of evidence that the addition of fluoride to the water supply has any harmful effects whatsoever.”
Mr Johnson’s (right) strong views are matched by those of Linda Forrest. She is the Chairperson of East Lancashire Against Fluoridation and has been campaigning for some 26 years.
The mother-of-two and grandmother-of-four, who lives in Blackburn, explains her two youngest grandchildren, aged eight and seven, might get dental fluorosis on their back teeth, which are still developing in the gums. It affects children whose developing teeth are exposed to too much fluoride and results in permanent discolouration.
Scientific inspection of public water fluoridation, called The York Review, estimated the prevalence of fluorosis at 48 per cent in fluoridated areas.
“However, I am concerned about the whole population’s children getting fluorosis if fluoridation is implemented.”
Many brands of toothpaste contain fluoride to help prevent dental caries. But this is different to putting it into water where it treats us from the inside, campaigners say.
“Chemicals are added to make water potable, while adding fluoride is intended to treat the consumer, not the water itself,” observed Mrs Forrest, 67.
Steve Clarke from Manchester Against Fluoridation confirms the argument is about the freedom to choose and “mass medication”.
The majority of European countries have ceased or even banned water fluoridation for those reasons.
Mr Clarke, 60, said: “Water should be pure… simple.”
More than 6 million people in England drink fluoridated water, out of which half a million live in naturally fluoridated areas. This makes up over 10 per cent of the population.
Manchester does not currently operate such a scheme but the chemical is added to water in some areas of Cheshire and Cumbria.
To artificially fluoridate water, compounds containing fluoride are added to the water supply to produce a final concentration of one part per million (1 ppm), which is a milligram per litre.
These compounds are different than those in natural or pharmaceutical fluoride – they contain poisonous trace elements such as lead and arsenic.
But dentist Saara Sabir, 28, from Deane Dental Practice, in Salford, said: “Fluoridated water is an excellent and simple way to reduce the rate of dental decay for the community.
“There is a huge amount of evidence that supports this, particularly from areas such as Birmingham that have had fluoridated water for some time.
“Doing it in Manchester would be fantastic, especially where I work in Salford, which has some of the highest decay rates amongst children in the whole of the North West.”
An ex-fluoridationist wrote in an essay titled Why I Changed My Mind About Water Fluoridation that tooth decay rates have decreased in both fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas.
Fluoride works by interrupting bacteria that produces the tooth decay-causing acid. It forms enamel that is more resistant to the harmful acid.
Mrs Forrest warns ingesting the chemical not only affects our teeth but other bodily organs as well.
“The problem of consuming fluoridated water at any age is the health effects on everyone that ingests the fluoride,” she said. “Over half of it is retained in the body and is therefore a cumulative ‘poison’.”
Mr Clarke pointed out: “The evidence that fluoride prevented tooth decay only related to the topical application directly onto the tooth and not by ingesting fluoride.”
The British Fluoridation Society, where Andy Burnham was once a Vice President, guaranteed there is no impact on the general health of people whose drinking water is artificially fluoridated.
United Utilities – which cleans, monitors and supplies water to 7m people across the North West – enables to search by postcode to see what exactly is in your water.
Spokesperson Helen Apps, 45, assured: “Tap water does have to meet much tighter regulatory standards than bottled water. It has to be tested more rigorously.”
She explained how the decision whether to fluoridate drinking water is made:
It seems that the only way for fluoride opponents to remove the chemical from their water is to filter it out. But those living in Manchester don’t have to worry as there are no plans to fluoridate the area just yet – that is, until Andy Burnham comes into power.
By DominKa Piasecka