Health Secretary calls for universal water fluoridation

(Telegraph/UK) – Andy Burnham, new Health Secretary, has called for universal water fluoridation despite protests over ‘mass medication’ and concern over links to cancer and bone disease.

by Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor
Published: 9:15PM BST 12 Jun 2009
Yound girl at dentist: Children’s dental health will be improved by adding fluoride to the water, Andy Burnham has said.
Children’s dental health will be improved by adding fluoride to the water, Andy Burnham has said. Photo: GETTY

Mr Burnham was accused of a ‘conflict of interest’ as he has been a supporter and vice-president of the British Fluoridation Society for a number of years.

In his first speech as Health Secretary Mr Burnham said: “Let’s press ahead with fluoridation of water supplies, given the clear evidence that it can improve children’s dental health.”

Health trust spends £700k teaching children to clean their teeth

In February the South Central Strategic Health Authority became the first region in almost 20 years to moves to add fluoride to the drinking water supply.

Water in Southampton and parts of Hampshire will be fluoridated from next year despite around 70 per cent of the respondents to the consultation arguing against the move.

Water fluoridation schemes already exist in the North East and West Midlands affecting 5.5 million people and a further half a million people live in areas in which fluoride occurs naturally in the water.

A review of the evidence on fluoridation conducted by York University in 2000 concluded that in areas with added fluoride the number of children without tooth decay increased by 15 per cent and children had on average 2.25 fewer decayed teeth than in non-fluoridated areas.

However a spokesman for the National Pure Water Association said there have been no high quality studies that demonstrate safety of efficacy of fluoridation and that adding chemicals to the water in this way amounted to mass medication of the population without their consent.

A spokesman said: “It is complete and utter madness. You cannot medicate a whole population. This is political and Andy Burnham has a conflict of interest because he was or is vice-president of the British Fluoridation Society which is based in his constituency.”

Fluoride in drinking water causes discolouration of the teeth in almost half of people exposed to it and in 12.5 per cent of people it significant, he said.

Another study has also linked fluoridated water to osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, the spokesman added.

The British Fluoridation Society is based at Ashton, Leigh and Wigan Primary Care Trust and Mr Burnham is MP for Leigh.

The British Fluoridation Society confirmed Mr Burnham has been a vice-president ‘until recently’ and added that they welcomed ministerial support.

Last year the Department of Health announced £14 million a year for three years for Strategic Health Authorities who, following consultations, find that the local community is in favour of the introduction of fluoridation schemes to improve the dental health.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Andy Burnham has held an honorary position with the British Fluoridation Society as Vice President since 2004. Following his appointment as Secretary of State for Health he will be relinquishing this position as he appreciates that there could be a perceived conflict of interest.

“We believe that fluoridation is a scientifically supported and effective means of addressing health inequalities by reducing tooth decay in children and adults, especially those from poorer backgrounds.

“There is no question of central Government imposing fluoridation.

“Decisions should be taken locally following consultations conducted in accordance with procedures approved by Parliament in 2005. The consultations should cover the benefits of fluoridation any possible risks to health and the ethical arguments for and against a population based approach to improving oral health.”

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