Fluoridation, Glasgow
Give us fluoride in water
Editorial Comment August 18 2004 - The Herald (Glasgow) original

Opportunity to improve dental health must be grasped
A generation of Glasgow children has paid the price for the highly organised, highly charged campaign that kept fluoride out of the municipal water supply 20 years ago. In 1978, Strathclyde Region voted for fluoridation in an attempt to improve one of the worst dental health records in Europe. Catherine McColl, the "toothless granny" from the Gorbals, took the council to the Court of Session and won on a technicality. Lord Jauncey ruled that Strathclyde would exceed its statutory power by taking such action but was unequivocal about the benefits of fluoride and "the amazingly silly controversy about the alleged detrimental effects". The Herald agreed and predicted: "The price of delay will be paid in pain and suffering in a community which, in practice, has no other hope of decisively improving its dismal standard of dental health in the near future."

Today, Glasgow children have the worst teeth in Scotland. Against a Scottish Executive target of 60% of children starting school caries-free by 2010, the current figure in the city is 35%. In some of the most deprived areas, three-quarters of all five-year-olds have holes, gaps or decay (often all three), and a recent audit found that in a typical week, 30 pre-fives have teeth removed under general anaesthetic at Glasgow Dental Hospital. Campaigners who display a collective paranoia about the effects of fluoridation are resoundingly silent about the risks that accompany anaesthetising small children. The issue now falls to Greater Glasgow NHS board, which yesterday agreed to hold a public consultation on the issue. Meanwhile, the executive, which has already invited public views, may back mass fluoridation in its long-overdue oral health strategy, due for publication shortly. This time we must act. This issue is about reducing health inequality and giving all our children healthy, pain-free smiles, not just ones from homes where parents ration sweets, supervise brushing and replace toothbrushes regularly. In an ideal world, all parents would do this, but they do not.

In the past three years, two major investigations into water fluoridation have confirmed that the process is safe and effective. One highlighted the increased prevalence of fluorosis mottled teeth an avoidable side-effect, but neither study found evidence to support claims of a link with cancer, bone disease, kidney disease or birth defects. Such stories usually refer to cases where the concentration of fluoride is much higher than the recommended proportion of one part per million. Drinking fluoride-free water is not a basic human right. It could never be when millions of people, including about 1.5 million in Britain, receive naturally-fluoridated water. It is a question of balancing individual preference against the common good. Those who object to fluoride can always choose to drink bottled water.

Meanwhile, the benefit to children's teeth is not some vague hope. Fluoride makes developing tooth enamel more resistant to acid and helps to repair decaying teeth. The proof of this pudding is in the drinking. In fluoridated Birmingham, children have three times less tooth decay than in unfluoridated Manchester. In Glasgow, we owe it to the next generation of children to grasp this nettle now.

A generation of Glasgow children has paid the price for the highly organised, highly charged campaign that kept fluoride out of the municipal water supply 20 years ago. In 1978, Strathclyde Region voted for fluoridation in an attempt to improve one of the worst dental health records in Europe. Catherine McColl, the "toothless granny" from the Gorbals, took the council to the Court of Session and won on a technicality. Lord Jauncey ruled that Strathclyde would exceed its statutory power by taking such action but was unequivocal about the benefits of fluoride and "the amazingly silly controversy about the alleged detrimental effects". The Herald agreed and predicted: "The price of delay will be paid in pain and suffering in a community which, in part per million. Drinking fluoride-free water is not a basic human right. It could never be when millions of people, including about 1.5 million in Britain, receive naturally-fluoridated water. It is a question of balancing individual preference against the common good. Those who object to fluoride can always choose to drink bottled water.

Meanwhile, the benefit to children's teeth is not some vague hope. Fluoride makes developing tooth enamel more resistant to acid and helps to repair decaying teeth. The proof of this pudding is in the drinking. In fluoridated Birmingham, children have three times less tooth decay than in unfluoridated Manchester. In Glasgow, we owe it to the next generation of children to grasp this nettle now.