HEALTH bosses in Glasgow have been warned they face fierce opposition as they launch a new push to get fluoride put into the city’s water.
NHS Greater Glasgow wants the Scottish Executive to introduce fluoridation as quickly as possible – against the advice of one of the city’s top dentists.
Robert Broadfoot, dental director of the city’s Primary Care Division, advised against the controversial proposal.
He said it would provoke a fierce public backlash and hinder other initiatives that would be accepted.
His warning was followed by campaigners saying they would fight the plan.
Members of Greater Glasgow NHS Board today agreed to go ahead with plans to consult the public on the move as part of an initiative to tackle high levels of decay, especially among poorer kids.
Glasgow has some of the worst tooth decay rates in Scotland, largely as a result of children taking too many sugary drinks and sweets and also due to many people in all age groups not brushing their teeth sufficiently.
In poorer areas, children starting school average 4.5 missing or decayed teeth. Children in affluent areas have a quarter of that decay.
The new push to introduce fluoride into Glasgow’s drinking water is the latest in a number of attempts over the years.
In 1978 councillors on Strathclyde Region approved by one vote a move to introduce fluoridation. But Gorbals granny Catherine McColl fought a high-profile campaign that went to the Court of Session in Edinburgh and in 1982 a judge ruled the region had exceeded its authority.
There was a second attempt in 1992, but a major Evening Times campaign alerted the public and the health board’s bid again failed.
The latest move was unveiled by community care director Catriona Renfrew.
Ms Renfrew, who is also leading the health board’s attempt to close the city’s Queen Mother’s Maternity Hospital, told the board a strategy group had found “water fluoridation is the single most effective measure to counter dental decay.”
She added: “It is a highly contentious issue, which is likely to take at least five years to implement”. She said other measures were also needed.
The report says: “We encourage the Scottish Executive to facilitate the introduction of water fluoridation at the earliest possible time.”
The board said it would hear a final report in December.
But at today’s meeting, lay board member Agnes Stewart said she was concerned about the problems said to be aggravated by fluoride.
She said: “I notice one English board held up as an example has withdrawn fluoride.”
Dr Frank Angell, chairman of the area dental committee, said he was in favour of fluoride, but added: “We have avoided debating this in the past and the sooner we get a debate on it, the better.”
That debate is likely to be vociferous and opponents say they will fight the plans.
Dr Sheila Gibson, formerly of Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital and who opposed previous campaigns, said: “I am surprised they are bringing this up again. If only they would read the scientific literature, they would know fluoride is detrimental to the health.”
Liz Vaughan, chairwoman of the National Pure Water Association, said: “Everyone has the right to refuse medication and that is enshrined in European human rights legislation. This is medication without consent with a known and registered poison.”
When the Scottish Executive drew up plans in 2002 to curb tooth decay, Dr Broadfoot argued in favour of the Swedish system, which advises parents about brushing, sealing children’s teeth early and applying a fluoride varnish to toughen older children’s teeth.
He was against plans for mass fluoridation in mains water.
The Green Party also opposes them. Health spokeswoman Eleanor Scott, a former child health doctor, said there were better ways to tackle decay.
She said: “I wonder how the costs of this would stack up against giving poorer children a toothbrush and a tube of fluoride toothpaste.
“I am not convinced about the general safety of this measure and also the specific difficulties of getting the dose right.
“There is also the basic human rights issue. We should all be able to drink the water from the tap without worrying that something we do not agree with has been added.”
An Executive spokeswoman said no decision had been made, but confirmed ministers were considering whether fluoride should be added to water supplies across the country as part of the oral health strategy, likely to be unveiled in the autumn.
She said: “We have had a large number of responses and will need to take time to consider them and come to a conclusion.”