CARENA Smith’s teeth will never recover. Mottled brown and warped, they were ruined by the chemical hailed as a cure-all for tooth decay.
Carena, now 19, took fluoride tablets as a child to make her teeth strong.
Instead, the chemical – which Glasgow NHS bosses want to add to public water supplies – poisoned the Scots youngster.
Today her mum, Dawn, 46, said: “I am astounded that they are thinking about doing this in Glasgow.
“There are plenty of countries with much better health records than ours and they don’t resort to putting fluoride in the water supply.”
And campaigners warned of an epidemic of Carena’s condition, called dental fluorosis, if more fluoride is put in the water.
The National Pure Water Association, a body which has been battling fluoridation for more than 40 years, cites research showing nearly half of all people who drink water laced with fluoride will suffer the condition in one form or another.
Glasgow-based campaigner Sheila Gibson said: “All the literature shows fluoride is detrimental to health. All the rest is just spin.”
Even supporters of fluoridation – the only mass involuntary medication ever considered in Britain – admit mild fluorosis could force Britons to rethink their love of the white Hollywood smile.
Of course, the doses Carena, from Linlithgow in West Lothian, took are much higher than those planned by NHS bosses for water supplies.
And many of the health warnings from campaigners were today dismissed as “spurious” by Greater Glasgow NHS Board after it gave its backing to renewed calls for fluoride to be added to city water.
But the board and other champions of fluoridation know they will face tough opposition.
They are in desperate need of a quick fix to the city’s shameful record on tooth decay – something they believe will ruin Glasgow’s smiles far more than fluorosis.
Dentists in the city admit they can’t meet tough new targets on tooth decay – despite running up an NHS bill of £200million a year.
The Scottish Executive wants three out of five five-year-olds to be free of rotten teeth by 2010.
Dentists, including senior NHS managers, freely admit they won’t manage that in Glasgow, which has the nation’s worse teeth, without some kind of quick fix.
Children – and their parents – have largely ignored campaigns to get them to eat fewer sweets and brush their teeth.
And that is where fluoridation comes in – to give Glaswegians better teeth whether they like it or not.
The NHS board has declined to put up any executive for interview on a draft oral health strategy report which was approved yesterday.
But in a statement it said: “The report highlights improvements in oral and dental health but points out that improvements are slow and the gap between oral health in deprived areas and more affluent areas was widening.”
Officials in Glasgow and elsewhere have considered a whole range of ways to get people – especially children – to take fluoride.
Researchers are working on special capsules that will release the chemical into children’s mouths slowly and city council chiefs have even backed calls for it to be put in pupils’ milk.
The Evening Times yesterday revealed that one of the health board’s top dental advisors, Robert Broadfoot, had warned of a public backlash against fluoridation drowning out calls for more palatable measures to cut tooth decay.
Dr Broadfoot, who was one of the authors of their draft oral health strategy, backs fluoridation.
He said: “I know the type of opposition that follows when the fluoride issue is raised and the distractions such arguments pose to the improvements of health but I can emphasise again that I back fluoride in water.”
Earlier the board’s planning director Catriona Renfrew said: “Water fluoridation is the single most effective measure to counter dental decay.”
But she added: “It is a highly contentious issue which is likely to take at least five years to implement.”
One senior city health expert and supporter of fluoridation signalled he would be willing to accept the verdict of the public on the issue.
Dr Harry Burns, director of public health with NHS Greater Glasgow, said: “The decision to put fluoride in the water does not lie solely with this board.
“There are ethical and moral issues about additives to drinking water and, clearly, the views of the public must be heard.”
Dr Burns, who said the scientific evidence for fluoridation was “clear”, hit at the heart of a debate that has been raging since the 1950s.
Is it right to medicate people against their will?
Opponents of the process straddle two broad camps.
One says fluoride, a byproduct of the fertiliser and aluminium industry that is officially registered as a poison, is too dangerous to drink and warns of side effects like fluorosis.
The other says that – even if scientists prove fluoride was safe – it would be wrong to force people to take medicine they did not necessarily need without their consent.
Professor John Haldane, of the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs at St Andrews University, said: “It is about whether we want a nanny state.”
More than 20 years ago toothless Gorbals granny Catherine McColl won a landmark court case to halt a 1978 decision by Strathclyde Regional Council to fluoridate Glasgow water.
Her lawyers, in what was then the most expensive and longest court case in Scottish legal history, argued the move was wrong both because fluoride was toxic and because the council had no right to do so.
Officially, she only won her claim that the council had exceeded their powers.
But the ruling put authorities off returning to the issue until 1992.
Then it was a short, sharp campaign by the Evening Times that put an end to their plans as campaigners geared up their arguments.
Most European countries have now abandoned fluoridation. But MPs in Westminster last year voted to give health authorities in England and Wales the right to force water companies to fluoridate. The Scottish Executive, pending a review, remains neutral on the issue.
Everybody in the debate now admits more research must be done.
But Carena’s mum Dawn knows better than most that scientists and doctors can get it wrong.
She was urged by health workers to give her baby daughter fluoride tablets every day to ensure her teeth grew in healthy and strong.
She followed the medical advice for seven years and then watched in horror as her young daughter’s adult teeth grew in brown and warped.
Dawn said: “Fluorosis has blighted my daughter’s life and her teeth will never recover.
“My message to NHS Greater Glasgow would be ‘please don’t do it’. There is no valid reason and it could make matters a lot worse.”