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21 May 2003 09:50
United Kingdom government ministers plan to extend the fluoridation of tap water in England and Wales, believing that proven benefits to dental health outweigh civil liberties objections and the possibility of increased medical risk.
They want strategic health authorities in England and Wales to be more determined in insisting that fluoride is added to water supplies where there is clear local support.
Amendments to the Water Bill, which will be debated in the House of Commons this month, will strengthen the hand of health bodies.
There may be a free vote on the issue, since it might be argued there is an ethical dimension to what critics will consider to be “compulsory medication”.
Ministers indicated their support for more fluoridation in September, when they argued that a review of evidence by the Medical Research Council showed no reason not to pursue fluoridation on public health grounds.
The London Sunday Times this week published extracts from a letter written by UK Health Minister Hazel Blears and Environment Minister Elliot Morley to John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, in his role as chairperson of the Cabinet’s domestic affairs committee.
“Those who remain adamantly opposed would be able to use water filters that remove fluoride or buy bottled drinking water,” they said. “Experience of oral health promotion projects shows that it is much harder to establish regular tooth-brushing in deprived areas because of the costs of toothpaste and, perhaps, because of the less ordered lifestyles lived by families.”
The letter said that opponents were in a minority, which “should not be allowed to deprive health communities from opting for fluoridation”.
The UK Department of Health said this week: “The government will be encouraging health authorities with particular dental health problems to consider fluoridating their water as part of their overall oral health strategy.”
About five million people in England already have fluoride added to their tap water, another 500 000 have naturally fluoridated water.
Jane Jones, campaign director of the National Pure Water Association, which campaigns against fluoridation, said: “This is nanny statism. To medicate the whole population against their will is not the way to deal with tooth decay.”
Water companies say the decision to add more fluoride must be made by politicians.
The Medical Research Council report said more information was needed on exposure to fluoride, particularly in children who would be more likely to swallow toothpaste, and on the discolouring of teeth. — Â
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