IN fluoridated Gateshead, dental health is no better than in unfluoridated Liverpool. Similar results have been found in the United States, New Zealand and Canada. Twelve European countries have banned water fluoridation, but this week Mary Mulligan MSP, the Deputy Health Minister, has put forward a consultation document on children’s oral health, which includes a proposal to put fluoride into all of Scotland’s drinking water.
This decision to dig up the old chestnut that fluoride prevents dental decay beggars belief. I abhor the idea of adding fluoride to drinking water; it is mass-medication without choice, and a frightening abuse of the monopoly on our water supply.
My party will oppose fluoridation on the grounds that it will mean unnecessary consumption of a toxic substance by the public through a monopoly supply, and will be an infringement of human rights. We will press for effective alternatives.
In October 2000, York University published a review of fluoridation – an “independent” review commissioned by the Government and carried out by the NHS. Rather than supporting the case for adding fluoride to drinking water supplies as the Government hoped, the review severely weakened the case. The study actually found “little evidence” to show that fluoride reduced dental health inequalities.
Indeed pro-fluoridationists have not been able to produce one scientific or laboratory study from anywhere in the world which proves fluoride reduces dental decay, yet there are hundreds of published scientific papers which show that water fluoridation is dangerous to human, animal, plant and aquatic life, as the fluoride put into water at the treatment plant all ends up in our rivers and seas.
Scientific papers have argued that fluorides have a disruptive effect on various tissues in the body. Fluoride confuses the immune system, is implicated in genetic disorders, is implicated in thyroid disorders and is implicated in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
THERE is no getting away from the fact that fluoride is a cumulative poison – we only excrete about half of any fluoride we ingest and the rest stays in our bodies and builds up. The effects of low-dose exposure may not yet be realised. Warnings from the World Health Organisation as early as 1953, and repeated in 1994, that total fluoride levels in people should be determined before any more is added must not be ignored.
Even if it did work, adding fluoride to the entire drinking water supply raises a question of civil liberties. Under the Patients’ Charter, people have a right to refuse treatment or ask for alternative treatment and the EU Rights Charter says “every man has to have a guarantee . . . that he has free choice of therapy.”
Yet water is a monopoly supply – it’s all or nothing. It is not feasible to say you can avoid fluoride in the tap water by buying bottled. Most food manufacturers use tap water in their products. Cafés and restaurants use water in their food and drink; farm animals are watered and tatties are boiled at home. There will be no escape from it if water is fluoridated, no possibility of refusal, and no freedom of choice.
Parents can choose whether or not to vaccinate their children against diseases but water fluoridation means compulsory medication. Fluoridating milk would give some element of choice, as long as milk providers were not coerced by subsidies (the NFU only this week came out strongly against milk fluoridation) and as long as containers were clearly marked and people were not beguiled by reduced prices. But the bottom line is our children do not need more exposure to chemicals by an undemocratic system that removes freedom of choice.
Fluoridation is also a pointless exercise when there are better alternatives. Teeth cleaning schemes in Tayside and Glasgow in nursery and primary schools discovered startling results – as much as a 37 per cent reduction in tooth decay in two years – and better than fluoridation would have achieved.
Furthermore, children trained to clean their teeth and eat healthily, would not only benefit from better dental health but better general health. it would also be essential that community dental services are re-introduced. Improvements in dental techniques have taken a lot of the fear away from treatment.
So dental decay is not caused by lack of fluoride but by poor nutrition and poor dental hygiene, and action should be taken to tackle these causes. Bad teeth are one result of poverty and poor diet. This should be about more than trying to prevent dental decay, it should be about helping children, primarily from deprived areas, to get a good start in life and enabling them to grow into healthy adults.
The Green Party has calculated that brushing schemes with free toothbrushes and paste for kids would cost about £2.5 million a year compared with £4m for running fluoridation plants, which would also cost about £30m to set up and take two years to build, whereas brushing schemes could be started right away.
Thirty million pounds would buy a lot of toothbrushes and paste.
THE Executive aims to cut the number of youngsters suffering from dental decay to 40 per cent within ten years using fluoridation, but by using the tooth-brushing scheme this figure could be 15 per cent in ten years.
Adding fluoride to the entire water supply would cost £4.4m a year, yet only a fraction of that water is used for drinking and cooking. This means 96p in every £1 spent on adding fluoride to water is literally poured down the drain. All that money could go into other ways of reducing decay.
The forthcoming so-called consultation on fluoridation is unlikely to be even-sided. In 1993, during a previous fluoride debacle, health authorities in Strathclyde alone spent £108,000 (plus VAT) promoting fluoride, while those against receive no financial assistance to promote their views. I will demand to know if the Executive will allow the arguments against fluoride to be put to the public or will it be a one-way consultation.
Twice already, in 1978 and 1992, the people of Scotland were offered water fluoridation and rejected it. We have recently been afflicted with other food and water crises. It is now time to press home to the Government that we want clean air, food and water for ourselves and our children. Let’s start by rejecting fluoridation and welcoming the alternatives.