THE debate could have run and run.

Feelings ran high on both sides of the argument during a heated third and final fluoridation Question Time-style event last night, with many speakers on the panel and in the audience shouted down by hecklers.

The debate failed to bring any consensus on the controversial plans to add fluoride to the tap water delivered to nearly 200,000 people in and around Southampton.

One speaker compared the polarised nature of the arguments to the Battle of Agincourt, but in the end it was more reminiscent of the long periods of stalemate on the Western Front during the First World War.

The evening was almost entirely split between two camps, both firmly entrenched in their views and steadfastly refusing to budge, while throwing arguments – and insults – at the other side.

Anyone in the 150-strong audience who started the night neutral on the subject was likely to have taken away as many questions as they received answers.

A majority of those at St Mary’s Stadium spoke of their concerns about possible negative side effects and public safety, and grave opposition to the removal of choice fluoridation would bring.

But others on the floor talked about the potential to improve dental health in Southampton’s children, and reduce inequalities between rich and poor in the city.

Experts on the four strong panel were equally split.

“Fluoride works topically from the outside. It makes as much sense to swallow it to improve teeth as it does to swallow sun lotion to protect your skin,” said Professor Paul Connett, director of the Fluoride Action Network.

He also argued there is a lack of evidence to prove fluoridation is safe.

But England’s chief dental officer, Dr Barry Cockcroft said he believes adding fluoride to the water is right for Southampton.

“There are two key messages around fluoridation: It works to reduce tooth decay and there is no credible evidence that it causes health problems,” he said.

T h e r e are just two weeks left for people to have their say on the scheme by submitting their views to South Central Strategic Health Authority, which will make the final decision on fluoridation. The public consultation ends on December 19.