UK health minister calls for mass medication through water supply

I read yesterday that Alan Johnson, the Health Minister here in the UK, is going to call this week for the practice of water fluoridation to be extended here in the UK. Currently about 10 per cent of the UK population is piped fluoridated water, something that is that we are told would reduce dental decay in a stroke. In support of this, we are reminded that dental decay rates in Manchester (where the tap water is non-fluoridated) are about twice those in Birmingham (where the water has been fluoridated for 40-odd years). This impressive sounding statistic becomes a little less impressive when you realise it really is no more scientifically tenable that the observation that because Japanese men smoke a lot but are generally long-lived, smoking must be good for us.

If the Government, aided and abetted by the British Dental Association and other pro-fluoride groups wanted to make a case for water fluoridation then they could do worse that to refer to real science. The most comprehensive review of this practice was published in the British Medical Journal in the year 2000 [1], and is commonly referred to as the ‘York Study’. This review found that just one in six individuals drinking fluoridated water appears to benefit from this practice. Correct my if I’m wrong, but I believe that this level of effectiveness is quite disappointing in comparison to almost panacea-like image so often painted for fluoride.

And what’s more, the York Study revealed that about half of individuals who drink fluoridated water will suffer from ‘dental fluorosis’ ” mottling and discolouration of the teeth caused by fluoride excess. A more recent review of the evidence found similar rates of dental fluorosis in those drinking fluoridated water [2]. So, let’s just be clear about this, the best available evidence we have is that water fluoridation reduces dental disease in one in six, but causes dental problems in one in two.

Now, when you start to look at this cold hard facts about water fluoridation it perhaps come as no surprise that those who support water fluoridation like to stay clear of the science: Much better to draw comparisons between dental decay rates in Manchester and Birmingham and hope that no-one notices what nonsense and just how much a distortion of the truth this is.

But wait, it gets worse. Fluoride is potentially toxic not just to the teeth, but other parts of the body including the bone, brain and endocrine (hormonal) system. More information on the potential hazards of fluoride can be found here.

And here’s another thing: the practice of water fluoridation basically amounts to mass medication of the population, no? Some would say that that’s an infringement of civil liberties. But let’s think a little more deeply about this: water fluoridation is mass medication that takes no account of the medical history of the individual nor their need for the ‘medication’. And the ‘dose’ of the medication (which has very real potential for harm) is not specified or monitored in any way. No, the dose of fluoride that people ingest from tap water is essentially determined by thirst.

Does any of this seem like good, effective, safe and ethical healthcare to you? Not to me.

Those of you who feel you’d like to share your views on this matter with Alan Johnson MP can contact him here.

As an addendum, I’d like to add a letter written by Ian Wylie, the Chief Executive of the British Dental Assocation, in response to a column in which I had been critical of water fluoridation published in the Observer. In this piece I specifically mentioned the York Study, and the fact that it showed only one in six benefits from the practice of water fluoridation.

Note that Ian Wylie’s response is very rich in rhetoric, but how while he refers to the science, he neglects to cite any. Notice too, that there’s no mention of the York Study. I wonder why not.

Sunday October 13, 2002
The Observer

In questioning the medical and ethical rationale behind water fluoridation, Dr John Biffa (OM, last week) ignores the oral health benefits of this policy.

Targeted water fluoridation is an acknowledged method of decreasing dental disease. Tooth decay remains a significant public health problem in the UK – particularly in socially deprived communities. This is why the British Dental Association campaigns for targeted fluoridation based on sound science.

The Medical Research Council recently reiterated its view that fluoridation reduces tooth decay and gave reassurance on wider health issues related to fluoridation. The BDA welcomed its call for further research and would expect this to include population studies where local communities want fluoridation.
Ian Wylie
Chief executive, British Dental Association
London W1


1. McDonagh M, et al. Systematic Review of Water Fluoridation BMJ 2000;321:855-859

2. Pizzo G, et al. Community water fluoridation and caries prevention: a critical review. Clin Oral Investig. 2007 Feb 27; [Epub ahead of print]

Related links:

Adding fluoride to water supplies is bad for our teeth

14 Responses to UK health minister calls for mass medication through water supply

  1. Neil 4 February 2008 at 9:17 pm #

    Regardless of the effectiveness of tap water containing fluoride (which is controversial), this is forcible mass medication without consent.

  2. Neil 4 February 2008 at 9:18 pm #

    If someone wants fluoride, then they can buy toothpaste containing fluoride.

  3. Natalija 8 February 2008 at 9:35 am #

    When I wash my teeth with fluoride paste, I have sore throat the next day.
    Therefore, for the last 15 years, I have been using bicarbonate soda or alternative toothpastes.

    Now it looks like I will need to think about my own water supply. 😉

  4. James G 8 February 2008 at 9:53 am #

    Almost makes one wonder whether the rabid right-wingers of 1950s America weren’t correct when they labeled water fluoridation as a communist conspiracy.


  5. Hilda 8 February 2008 at 11:08 am #

    John : As fluorine is one of the halogens with chlorine and iodine and these two are more reactive than iodine so will displace it I am wodering whether both flourine and chlorine are reducing iodine levels in the body, hence the huge amount of thyroid dysfunction in the uk.

  6. Elizabeth 8 February 2008 at 12:51 pm #

    Why are we calling this ‘medication’. I hope I am wrong but I have always understood that fluoride is a by-product of the aluminium smelting industry! Didn’t they use to have to pay substantial sums of money for its disposal until some bright spark decided it would be a good thing to put in our toothpaste and drinking water.

  7. rm 8 February 2008 at 6:20 pm #

    Sadly the comments above are right to the point. The reason for mass fluoridation is to use us a a dumping ground for industrial waste. It certainly is not about health. Your Ian Wylie says that there are several organizations that favor fluoride in the water and that since they are for it you should be also. In other words, DON’T THINK, FOLLOW. In my community in California we have had the same battle. A hard push by those who are impressed by the surface argument that it is good for the kids and any anti-fluoridation stand is anti-poor children adds energy to the “profits over all” pro fluoride movement. My personal favorite argument against fluoride in the water is what used to be an American favorite. Freedom of choice. TV and poor education has shut that door. We did win in one local city. Try letting the businesses (food especially) in your communities know you will boycott any place with fluoride in the cooking or manufactured products. Don’t forget the Dairy industry. Good luck, when you win we win. rm

  8. Mike 9 February 2008 at 5:10 pm #

    I use Fluride toothpaste, obtained on prescription. It clearly states on the box “Not suitable for children under 10 years old.” and “DO NOT SWALLOW.” (thier capitals not mine).

    I use this product because I can control it. I can stop when ever I want. If fluride is in my water I have no control, I cannot stop if I feel it is doing me harm.

    I drink 6 mugs of tea or ocationally coffee each day. If Floride is in my water supply, is anyone giving me a garantee that this amount of Floride is not going to do me harm?

    Some might say, “if you don’t like it, buy bottled water”. But bottled water is an expensive regular addition to the shopping basket of the not so well off

  9. Gordon 9 February 2008 at 6:35 pm #

    It is a tragedy that so many dentists are so keen on fluoridation. Teeth can be -and often are-perfectly healthy without ever being near a trace of fluoride, which is in fact extremely poisonous. The fluoride promotion seems to be another example of big business cashing in on a lie.

  10. helen 10 February 2008 at 11:17 pm #

    well we have been forced to have water containing fluoride now for years in Australia. Do not let them do it to your water supply over there. Even our latest figures on childhood tooth decay don’t support it being of any benefit as the number of incidents of tooth decay are actually going up. Of course the idiots making the decision blame the increased use of bottled water to explain away the non effectiveness of fluoride in the drinking supply. I filter all my drinking water to get rid of the stuff as I don’t want to drink it & I object to being forced to do so. The problem with water is that the more you drink the more you are exposed to the chemical & to say we don’t injest much is moronic as how much is too much on any level when we are talking about a toxin. Fluoride does strengthen teeth but it also makes them brittle so the chip more or break off near the gums which is always an expensive painful proceedure to have corrected at the dentist. Anyway it is the “topical” application of fluoride to the teeth that is supposed to be of benefit according to the dentist not the injestion of the stuff. I actually never use toothpaste with fluoride in it I only use calcium fortified herbal tooth pastes with no added nasties at all.

  11. Hilda 14 February 2008 at 1:08 pm #

    My friend, a dentist, gave fluoride drops to her child. Her new teeth grew in mottled so she had to have veneers.

  12. Angela 15 January 2009 at 1:39 am #

    I agree with the “Freedom of Choice” argument but this does not negate an individual’s responsibilities.

    Whatever the alleged side-effects and scare-mongering associated with the use of fluoride, it is scientifically proven to reduce dental decay.

    This has to go hand in hand with controlling dietary sugars. No amount of toothbrushing or fluoride use will prevent tooth decay on it’s own- hence the reason that some living in fluoridated areas will still experience tooth decay- if the amount and frequency of sugar consumption is still high.
    (Fluoride apart- look at demineralisation and remineralisation).

    If people choose not to use fluoride, they have to take personal responsibility for the fact that they are likely to be at an increased risk of tooth decay- and not blame a stretched dental service, or lack of access to NHS dentists for their oral health status.

    The reason the government would like to introduce fluoridated water supplies is to help ease the problem of limited dental access. Prevention is better than cure and if the public’s teeth are in a better state, this will help free up room on dental waiting lists faster. A 15minute check up appointment once a year per patient as opposed to several hours in a dental chair for restorative treatment will mean better access for all.


  1. Fluoridation appears to do much harm than good | Dr Briffa's Blog - 11 January 2011

    […] Well, one reason might have to do with the fact that the ‘science-base’ for water fluoridation is quite poor. The most significant review of the literature in this area (often referred to as ‘The York Study’) concluded that water fluoridation appears to prevent dental disease in one in six, but actually causes dental problems in the form of what is known as ‘dental fluorosis’ (discolouration and possibly pitting in the teeth) in about one in every two people drinking fluoridated water. You can read more about this here. […]

  2. Fluoridation appears to do much more harm than good - 14 January 2011

    […] Well, one reason might have to do with the fact that the ‘science-base’ for water fluoridation is quite poor. The most significant review of the literature in this area (often referred to as ‘The York Study’) concluded that water fluoridation appears to prevent dental disease in one in six, but actually causes dental problems in the form of what is known as ‘dental fluorosis’ (discolouration and possibly pitting in the teeth) in about one in every two people drinking fluoridated water. You can read more about this here. […]

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