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Last Updated: Friday, 24 October, 2003, 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK
West: Good medicine?

Paul Barltrop
Politics Show West

Few people enjoy taking medicine. Even fewer would like to take it if they don't need to.

Tap water
Government is pressing for fluoride to be added to water supplies

But under the Water Bill which is currently going through Parliament the government is pressing for fluoride to be added to our water supply.

The water companies are worried, MPs are divided and many people are furious.

Sweets and fizzy drinks and a lack of education rot children's teeth.

In the most deprived parts of Britain's cities tooth decay in children is rampant, as many as 44% of five year olds have rotten teeth.

Good teeth
Claimed that fluoride prevents dental caries

Claimed fluoride prevents dental caries

Those who support it, including the government and the British Dental Association, say there is overwhelming evidence that water fluoridation is beneficial and harmless.

John Boyles, a consultant at Bristol Dental Hospital, believes it will help children's oral health;

It helps strengthen the outer shell of the tooth the enamel.

And it can work as the enamel is built up when the child is young but more importantly it helps the tooth re-mineralise when it has been attacked by sugars in the diet.

Opponents also cite public health as their main concern.

Mike Abrahams runs a health food shop in Bristol and is a campaigner for the National Pure Water Association.

He says this particular fluoride comes from an industrial waste product and is poisonous. He also says it is linked to cancer, and causes osteoporosis and fluorosis, which is a discolouring of the teeth;

Because this is a by-product of the bio-chemical industry it is full of toxins and there are so many poisonous materials in there, you are going to see an increase in degenerative disease.

Mike Abrahams says perhaps the main objection is being force fed medicine in order to benefit the minority;

This is now becoming a mass medication except it is a mass toxification.

We have no choice about it and it's not removed by filters.

So we are going to have fluoride and the more water we drink the more we get poisoned.

But John Boyles says that is not true.

He says Birmingham is a good example. Tooth decay has halved since they fluoridated the water;

If you really want to reduce inequalities you have to have public health measures such as water fluoridation and I think it is a small price to pay.

It is the equivalent of legislation to make people wear safety belts in cars.

MPs divided

The strong arguments have divided MPs regardless of party lines.

Doug Naysmith, the Labour MP for Bristol North West is passionately pro-fluoridation.

His Bristol East party colleague Jean Corston speaks out against it.

Water Bill returns to the House of Commons

And one has even switched sides! Weston-super-Mare's Liberal Democrat MP Brian Cotter supported a Parliamentary motion in February for fluoride in water supplies; now, having heard more about it, he is opposed.

In November they will have the final say when the Water Bill returns to the House of Commons.

If passed, it will take the decision out of the hands of companies like Bristol Water who are reluctant to fluoridate.

It will indemnify them and leave the final say to the West's health authorities.

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