HEAVYWEIGHTS from both sides of the fluoride argument squared up against each other last night, but neither managed to deliver a knockout blow.

Around 150 people turned up for the first of three Question Time-style debates between the opposing sides of the argument surrounding plans to fluoridate two thirds of Southampton’s water supply.

Experts including England’s chief dental officer and the head of an international anti-fluoride coalition took their opportunities to air and explain their views and score points against each other.

But those who came hoping to make up their minds are likely to have left with even more questions about the controversial scheme than when they arrived at St Mary’s Stadium.

As could be expected from a subject on which the most widely-accepted study said there is a lack of high quality evidence on most claims both for and against, there was much contradiction among the panel.

What was evident from both sides, and from many of those in the audience, was the passion the issue stirs.

The debate’s independent c h a i r m a n , Hampshire – based broadcaster Peter White admitted he had been told he could cut the two hour session short if there was a lack of questions from the floor.

But he could probably have held all three scheduled sessions back-to-back and the a r g u m e n t s would still have raged long into the night.

England’s top dentist, Barry Cockcroft, and Southampton City Primary Care Trust dental consultant, Dr Jeyanthi John told the audience fluoride is a proven method of reducing tooth decay.

“The benefits are clearly demonstrated, it has a benefit for absolutely everybody and that is undeniable,” said Dr Cockcroft.

“Nobody has ever come up with the evidence to back up the scare stories.”

But Professor Paul Connett, founder of the Fluoride Action Network, and former Southampton PCT board member Dr Stephen Peckham said studies have never been carried out into side effects.

“Since fluoridation came in the main focus of the money has gone into studies on the effects on teeth, teeth and teeth,” said Prof Connett.

“Teeth aren’t the only tissue in the body.”

Prof Connett ended the night by challenging his opponents to provide by the second debate scientific rebuttals of 23 studies from China, India, Iran and Mexico, he said show links with lower IQ, cancers and thyroid problems.

The second and third events will held on November 18 and December 3.