Just let me get my teeth into those fluoride fans
Sun 4 Jul 2004
Source; Scotland on Sunday
APOLOGIES for being so Texan, but the word ‘fluoride’ makes me want to reach for my metaphorical gun.
Call me a Luddite, but the idea of taking a relatively pure, essential resource - water - and then pumping it full of a waste product from the aluminium industry - fluoride - in the name of dental health, it just doesn’t sit well with me. Or lots of other people, which is why the Scottish Executive has decided it won’t be making the decision to mass ‘medicate’ us - it will hand this over to our health boards: those unelected bodies so well known for passing unpopular hospital closure decisions in the face of mass opposition.
There are too many doubts about fluoride. It’s carcinogenic - in what doses, we’re not too sure. It’s certainly linked to brittle bones. People in fluoridated areas have less fillings, but in later life, more broken bones and hip fractures. And then there’s fluoridisis. The mottling, caused by over-exposure to fluoride, which spoils teeth for life.
Scottish teeth are truly appalling, some of the worst teeth in the world. Two thousand under-fives have seven or more rotten teeth pulled every year in Glasgow alone. As one dentist put it, that really is tantamount to child abuse. But lack of fluoride does not cause decay: sugar and bad oral hygiene cause decay.
We have been woefully failed by generation after generation of Scottish dentists who have put treatment way above prevention. I can only imagine that the economics of dentistry are such that a mouthful of fillings is seen as a more profitable situation than a mouthful of pearly whites (let’s not even get started on mercury poisoning).
I’m so angry about the state of Scottish teeth because I know how good they could be, even on the NHS. I have all 32 of my teeth and only three are filled. This is such a Scottish rarity that people occasionally want to take a look. My mother’s priorities, when we were small, were that we should be excellent swimmers with great teeth - because she couldn’t swim and had a mouth full of metal. So, we were trailed every four months to the Dental Hospital in Dundee where we received superlative treatment for free.
All sorts of wonderful, new things were done to our teeth on the NHS 25 years ago, which are still not the norm in Scottish dentistry today. And that is the absolute disgrace. Most of the dentists who trained there, who know all about these innovative, preventative measures, have obviously not brought our dental care forward into the 21st century. In fact we’re rapidly regressing and the number of dentists, especially NHS ones, is plummeting.
Only recently did I have my 25-year-old Dental Hospital fillings replaced. The average lifespan of an NHS filling used to be 10 years and has now dropped to below five. Another disgrace.
My adult molars, as soon as they emerged, were all coated at the hospital, on the NHS, with a sealant which has prevented decay so successfully that I’ve never had a sealed tooth filled. This is standard practise for children in America, but hardly anyone has heard of it here and it’s only available from a few private dentists. The Dental Hospital was totally pro-active in informing parents and children how to keep teeth healthy. There are many things I know about tooth care which still aren’t common knowledge - again, just inexcusable.
We were taught how to brush and floss thoroughly. We were warned to reduce the amount of time sugar was in contact with our teeth. So, lollipops and sucking sweeties were banned, but soft sweets and chocolate were deemed OK in moderation. Moderation meant twice a week after a meal.
But Scotland is such a sweetie culture. To my horror, my five-year-old regularly comes home from school with Mars bars given by the teacher and loving great-aunties have plied my children with soft ‘baby’ sweeties since they were tiny!
The Dental Hospital regime did involve fluoride. Our teeth were encased in fluoride gel and for several years we took fluoride supplements. I don’t know if this is going to give me cancer or cause me to break my hip in years to come, and my well-informed dentist recommends neither for my children, claiming the fluoride in toothpaste is enough. But at least the treatment was voluntary and focused on the years when our teeth could absorb fluoride. Why should adults who can’t benefit and may in fact be harmed have to consume fluoride every time they turn on the tap?
Fluoride is a panacea when our politicians and health boards should be concentrating on far better dentists and dental care.
If you want to add fluoride to something? Here’s an idea: let the manufacturers pay to add it to all those sweets, sugary and fizzy drinks that are causing the problems in the first place.