Campaigners for pure water today called on families in Staffordshire to mobilise opposition to new plans to speed up fluoridation of drinking supplies. But dentists’ leaders in the north of the county – battling to treat the most decayed teeth in the West Midlands – welcomed the move to press on with the controversial programme years after it ground to a halt.

The fresh impetus came from revelations in a leaked ministerial letter that health authorities are to get powers to increase the fluoridation of drinking water across England and Wales.

They will be able to over-ride any traditional reluctance by the water companies to put microscopic quantities of the chemical into taps provided they have undergone extensive consultation beforehand.

Like nearly 90 per cent of Britain, Staffordshire is a fluoride-free zone but dental health in Birmingham dramatically improved when the substance was added 30 years ago.

The new push is to be in the form of amendments to the Water Bill which will go before Parliament later this month.

Protesters fear that if the changes are introduced, it could signal the end of their fight to keep water pure.

Ray Oldacre, chairman of the Stafford-based Protect Our Water group, said: “Fluoride is a very powerful poison and no matter how it is dressed up as a health promotion measure, this is mass medication of a toxic substance to a whole population.

“In the past, water companies did not want the responsibility for doing this in case people suffered ill effects and sued the companies.

“By giving health authorities the final say to force the water companies’ hand could make all the difference but they would still have to consult the people. That would probably be done through the councils so I would urge people to lobby councillors about their misgivings on fluoridation.

“Fluoride forced down people’s throats over long periods can cause all sorts of problems such as bone illnesses. Many people will be unable to drink treated water so will have to buy it in bottles or fit filters.”

The dental profession has always supported fluoridation, but its leader in North Staffordshire admitted some reservations.

John Kocierz, secretary of the Local Dental Committee, said: “I trained in Birmingham and saw what a difference it made to people.

“It decreases tooth decay by 50 per cent and is needed in the Potteries where children have the worst dental health in the West Midlands.

“It would be added in such small amounts that I don’t believe it will do long-term harm. But speaking as an individual and not a dentist, I have misgivings about mass medication, and I wonder where it would all stop.”