The Minister for Health, Mr Martin, has defended th fluoridation of public water supplies in the State as a ‘safe and effective’ public health policy following the publication of a report which endorses it.
The Forum on Fluoridation, which Mr Martin set up two years ago, concluded in a report published yesterday that fluoridation was ‘harmless to health’ and had been ‘very effective in improving the oral health’ of children and adults in Ireland.
But the report was immediately condemned by the Green Party TD, Mr John Gormley, as a ‘whitewash’. He said the Greens would be introducing private members’ legislation in the Dail to ban the addition of fluoride – a toxic chemical – to water supplies.
Mr Robert Pocock, of the VOICE environmental group, also attacked the forum’s principal finding. It was based on ‘no new scientific research’, even though a review two years ago by the British National Health Service had found ‘a dearth of reliable evidence’.
During the course of 14 sessions, the forum heard presentations from seven Irish and seven overseas experts, mainly those who favoured fluoridation – though it says it was ‘difficult to find or engage people to put the anti-fluoridation point of view’.
Responses to a questionnaire were firmly against fluoridation. Almost 50 per cent of respondents claimed not to use fluoride toothpaste, though it accounts for 95 per cent of the market. ‘This gives an indication of the level of bias,’ it said.
Worldwide, 39 countries add fluoride to their public water supplies and over 300 million people consume fluoridated water. Fluoridation is being introduced on a mandatory basis in South Africa, though it is being ceased in Finland and eastern Germany.
The report noted that dental decay levels were comparable in the Republic and Northern Ireland before the mandatory introduction of fluoridation in 1964. Since then, there had been a large drop in the Republic compared to the ‘unfluoridated’ North.
However, it also found that dental fluorosis is increasing in the South and, while recommending that water fluoridation should continue as a public health measure, the level of fluoride should be reduced from one part per million to 0.7 parts per million.
It recommended amending the Fluoridation of Water Supplies Regulations to reflect modern monitoring and analytical technologies and international quality specifications as well as setting up a permanent expert body to advise the Minister.
While endorsing the continued use of fluoride toothpaste as an additive, the forum said children under two years of age should use water only and those aged between two and seven should use only a ‘pea-sized’ amount of fluoride toothpaste.
It said all products containing fluoride should be so labelled as well as giving clear instructions for use, particularly for children. This should be accompanied by a public education and information campaign as well as further research to collect data on fluoride.
Reacting to the report, the Dental Health Foundation also called for the development of ‘an effective and sustained public information campaign, aimed at the parents of young children, about the proper use of fluoride toothpastes for under-sevens’.
Ms Deirdre Sadlier, the foundation’s executive director, said the public did not appear aware of the difficulties posed by inappropriate tooth brushing, ‘in particular the dangers to children of ingesting excessive levels of fluoride’.
Ms Sadlier said the development of dental care services for children under five needed to be addressed as a ‘key priority’.