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Fluoridation of water

November 2003

On Monday 10 November MPs will vote on the Water Bill. The Government have put down an amendment to the Bill (Clause 58) on water fluoridation which has caused some controversy.  I will be supporting the amendment and I have outlined my reasons below.

I am in favour of fluoridation in areas, like Birmingham, where the natural level of fluoride is not sufficient to help protect teeth.  This Clause will give other communities the opporutnity of having the same benefits of fluoridation that we have had in Birmingham for the last 40 years, due to the far sightedness of Birmingham City Council who used to run BIrmingham's water supply.

Clause 58 of the Bill is designed to require water companies to agree to requests from strategic health authorities to increase the concentration of fluoride in their water supplies, where the local population is in favour.  I support this Clause as it will give local communities the choice of having their water supply fluoridated.   The Clause does not impose fluoridation on local communities, it simply enables them to demand that their water companies provide it, should the community so wish.  At present water companies are not under any obligation to provide this health measure.

Fluoride can be delivered to individuals in drinking water, in which the fluoride level is adjusted to one part per one million parts of water (1ppm or 1mg/litre).  In Birmingham where we have had artificially fluoridated water for decades, people have much better dental health than in other communities.  Tooth decay is still a significant public health problem in many parts of the country.  In socially deprived, non-fluoridated communities, one in three children under the age of five will have one or more decayed teeth extracted.

In some communities the level of fluoride that exists naturally in the water is already higher than the 1.5mg/l of fluoride limited by Directive 98/83/EC i.e. 1.5ppm.  So in those areas where the natural level is higher than this the concentration has to be reduced usually by dilution.  For this reason, it is crucial that there is not a blanket policy of imposing fluoridation, but a policy which gives communities the right to choose and I am pleased that the Government is introducing such a measure.

Some people have raised concerns about dental fluorosis (characterised by an alteration of dental enamel) arising from artificial fluoridation.  However, dental fluorosis can occur in both fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas.  With water levels up to 1ppm the severe forms of fluorosis are extremely rare and are associated with other uses of fluoride, for example, the swallowing of adult strength fluoride toothpaste by very young children.

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