- Water companies will be forced to add fluoride to Britain's
drinking supplies under moves by MPs to prevent tooth decay in children.
By the age of five, nearly two-thirds of children in some parts of the
UK have at least one rotten tooth.
- There is overwhelming evidence that fluoridation, supported
by dentists, can dramatically reduce the spread of tooth decay.
- However, critics argue that it should be up to parents
to cut sweets out of their children's diets and supervise teeth-brushing,
rather than forcing the nation to drink chemically spiked water which may
carry health risks.
- Tomorrow MPs will push to amend an unrelated water Bill,
currently due before Parliament, to make fluoridation compulsory where
local people vote for it.
- The Scottish Executive is already consulting on plans
to fluoridate water, while in England Public Health Minister Hazel Blears
has asked the chief medical officer and chief dental officer for advice
on whether the evidence would support wider fluoridation.
- 'Fluoride has been shown to be one of the simplest, most
effective public health interventions there is. All we are calling for
is a right for local people to decide,' said Andy Burnham, MP for Leigh
and a member of the Commons health select committee.
- 'We are talking about concentrations of one part per
million in water, a tiny amount, which can have a huge health benefit.'
- However, anti-fluoride campaigners said the issue was
the beginning of a 'slippery slope' of mass medication. Opponents believe
fluoride could be linked to greater risk of cancer or bone disease, while
too much could turn teeth brown and mottled.
- 'No one has the right to compel another person to take
medication against their will,' said Jane Jones, campaign director of the
National Pure Water Association.
- 'This [tooth decay] is a non-contagious, non life-threatening,
avoidable condition. Why aren't there warning labels on sweets and fizzy
- 'If we mass-medicate or treat populations like this some
other bright spark is going to say "why don't we put this in the water
next because it would prevent something else?"'
- Andy Burnham, a former aide to ex-Public Health Minister
Tessa Jowell, is backed by the former Health Secretary Frank Dobson and
Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Patsy Calton. He has tabled a Commons
motion calling on the Government 'to give communities the power to choose
water fluoridation' by allowing amendment of the Bill, which will be published
- The water industry has powers to consider fluoridation
if there is local support. In practice most have been reluctant, fearing
legal bills if any health side-effects are found in future.
- Burnham's amendment would force water companies to fluoridate
supplies where a clear majority of local people wants it, effectively removing
the responsibility for the change from the water industry.
- There are strong links between child poverty and bad
teeth in Britain, partly because of diet. Yet fluoridation appears able
to iron out the differences: in Greater Manchester, more than 62 per cent
of five-year-olds have at least one decayed tooth, twice the rate of tooth
decay in Birmingham where water is fluoridated.
- Senior figures at the Department of Health are said to
be privately sympathetic on the issue but have been wary of a backlash.
- A spokesman said Ministers believed extending the number
of water fluoridation schemes 'would reduce oral health inequalities' but
that the Medical Research Council, which recently concluded there was no
evidence of side effects, was still carrying out research on how the body
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