They are two men from the same profession who have advised governments on dental policy, but with wildly differing views on adding fluoride to our water. Here they give their reasons for and against.

Dr Paul Connett is the director of Fluoride Action Network and a retired professor of chemistry at St Lawrence University in New York State. He has travelled and spoken at conferences worldwide on fluoride since he began researching it 12 years ago. He advised America’s National Research Council during its investigation into fluoridated water. He was born in Sussex and studied at Cambridge University. He moved to the United States in 1966.

FLUORIDATION is a terrible practice.

“There were two main facts that initially persuaded me. Firstly, the level of fluoride in a mother’s milk that is a baby’s first meal designed to give all the nutrients they need is 0.004 parts per million. That means that if Southampton’s water is fluoridated you are going to be getting 250 times more fluoride than nature intended.

“Secondly, the evidence for fluoride’s benefits is weak. If you look at tooth decay in 12-yearolds in Europe you can find no difference in the countries that have been fluoridated for years and those that have not. A randomly controlled study into this has never been done.

“The absence of evidence is not evidence of safety. Fluoridated countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, which have more than 50 per cent of their water fluoridated, have done very little to study the health impact.

“Most of the countries that have done research have not been fluoridated countries.

They are countries like China and India where they have problems with high natural levels of fluoride and are very concerned about it.

“Scientific research in the UK stopped in 2000 with the York Review, which basically said there is not enough evidence to show fluoridation is safe or not safe.

“There have been more than 40 animals studies that show that fluoride damages the bones.

“The Xiang study from 2003 looked at two villages in China. It found a drop in IQ of between five and ten IQ points where the fluoride level was 2.5 parts per million.

“In 2006, a review on fluoride was published in America by the National Research Council. It was a study by the first truly independent panel that looked at fluoride toxicity. It took three years and has 1,000 references, but it’s being ignored all over the world.

“The study states the water standards are unprotective of health in the US and the levels of fluoride need to be lowered. The study looked at the effects of water where the fluoride dose is 4 parts per million. If people are impacted at 4 parts per million, you can anticipate people will be impacted at 1 part per million.

“I challenge anybody in Southampton promoting fluoridation to read the National Research Council report and then say there is an adequate margin of safety to protect everyone when adding fluoride to water.

“But there is no argument that fluoride damages health – the issue is not whether it damages health but whether there is an adequate margin of safety in the amount of fluoride.

“I would stake my professional reputation on there not being an adequate margin of safety to protect everyone once you put fluoride in water.

“There is no question that fluoride hardens bone, but the concern is lifetime exposure.Who knows what people’s bones will be like in 60 to 70 years’ time after years of exposure. That’s why most European countries don’t fluoridate.

“People are told to drink as much water as they can. They are getting fluoride from other sources and fluoride toothpaste is available.

“One third of US children now have dental fluorosis, the first indicator that the child has been exposed to fluoride – it’s a warning signal.

“When the benefits that you can demonstrate are so small, why would you take any risk at all?

“People have a right to say they do not want this medicine. The more you read about fluoride, the less likely you are to support fluoridation.

“You are allowing the health authorities to do to the whole community what an individual doctor cannot do to anyone. A doctor can’t force medication on a patient.”

Dr Barry Cockroft is England’s Chief Dental Officer. His governmental role sees him provide professional leadership for dental advisors in the Department of Health and its agencies. He previously worked as a dentist in Rugby.

“I’VE LIVED in a fluoridated area for 40 years.

I’ve seen from a personal, professional and parent’s point of view what the benefits are, and I think there are some pretty basic fundamental messages about fluoridation.

“All water in the country contains fluoride. There’s not a single tap that doesn’t have some fluoride in it.

“What we’re doing is adjusting the level of a naturally occurring compound to a level that is effective in addressing tooth decay.

“Some parts of the country have that level in the water naturally, and generation after generation have drunk that water with no evidence of side effects. TheWest Midlands has been fluoridated for 40 years and the only impact has been that some areas have the best oral health in the country.

“There are 170mpeople in the US, the most legally facilitated society in the world, who have fluoridated water. If there were real worries about this I don’t think that would be going on.

“A huge amount of scaremongering goes on about fluoridation, but there’s never been a scientific paper which has proven an adverse effect.

“I didn’t have to carry out a single dental fluorosis procedure during my time as a dentist.

“Fluorosis is a slight white flecking on the surface of the teeth and invisible when the tooth is wet. Effectively it makes teeth whiter.

“If dental fluorosis is such a problem, I don’t see the States complaining about the state of their teeth.

“That’s why I think it’s important people get their facts straight and get as much information as they can. And if you want to get more information, speak to someone who knows what they are talking about.

“People involved in the public consultation have to make their opinions known, but I think people taking part will want accurate and fair answers to their concerns.

“Many will ask their own dentist for advice which is why I’ve met with them to talk about what the benefits are, and answer some of the scaremongering accusations put forward.

“I know first hand the advantages of this, but it’s right that it’s down to local consultation and it’s not imposed centrally.

“It’s a local consultation, and it needs to be just that – local, and robust.

“In the early 1970s about 40 per cent of adult people in Britain had no teeth at all. Now, with the advent of fluoride toothpaste, the number of people with no teeth is down to about five or six per cent.

“There is a real possibility here to improve not only the health of children but the health of those children as they grow up.

“Dental decay lasts for life if you get it, so there are lifelong benefits for people.

“Something else that gets missed out is the benefit to the older people in our communities.

While people tend to focus on the children, the latest research in the US says older people also benefit from fluoridated water.

“As we get older our mouths tend to dry up and you start to see more tooth decay again.

“Fluoride is hugely beneficial in preventing this decay, which is crucial because people are going to be living longer and retaining their own teeth. I think it’s important to get the message across that everybody benefits from this.

“Over the last 30 years we have seen a huge improvement in oral health but tooth decay is also linked to depravation and those who suffer most are those who can’t afford fluoride toothpaste.

“The beauty of fluoridation is it requires no compliance, so the people who stand to benefit most will benefit most.

“My message to the people of Southampton is simple: Get as much accurate information as you can, get your facts right and don’t be put off by scaremongering.”