The UK’s four chief medical officers (including the inevitable and, to me, increasingly scary Dr Whitty of England) want to see fluoride added to all drinking water in the UK.
They claim that this would cut tooth decay by between 17% and 28% (a pretty wide spread it has to be said) and would reduce hospital admissions for teeth extraction by between 45% and 68% (another massive spread which, once again, rather hints at guesswork of the variety for which governments everywhere have become known in the last year or two).
I am not alone among doctors (and dentists) who worry that putting fluoride into drinking water does far more harm than good.
Most of us take it for granted that the water we obtain by turning on our taps will be fresh and pure. Sadly, however, there is a growing amount of evidence to show that the water most of us get when we turn on our taps isn’t always quite as pure as we like to think it is.
There are five reasons why your drinking water may not be as pure as you would like:
First, much of our drinking water is contaminated with nitrates. The nitrates get into the water supplies when farmers use large quantities of artificial fertilizer. The nitrates from the fertiliser seep down into the ground and eventually find their way into the water supplies. Just what damage nitrates can do to the human body is still something of a mystery, though some people believe that they may be linked to a variety of serious disorders, including cancer.
The second problem is that many of the facilities for extracting and supplying water to the developed world are now getting rather old. Many water pipes were laid during the nineteenth century and throughout the developed world there are many people who still get their water pumped through lead pipes. Unfortunately, water that passes through lead piping has a nasty tendency to pick up quite a bit of lead before it gets to the tap. And lead in drinking water can lead to many serious problems — including damage to the brain and the central nervous system.
The third problem comes from the fact that, around the world, people whose job it is to provide us with clean water often use chemicals to disinfect, sterilise, purify or otherwise cleanse the water they are selling. Two of the substances which they are most likely to use are chlorine and aluminium sulphate and both these substances may cause problems. It is now suspected that one of the substances that is produced when chlorine mixes with the acids which naturally occur in peaty soils may cause intestinal cancer. And aluminium sulphate, used partly to help remove the acids which might otherwise interact with the chlorine to create cancer producing chemicals, and partly to take the discoloration out of peaty water, may cause problems too. The worry is a link between the drinking of aluminium rich water and the development of premature senility — in particular Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to the dangers which may exist when chlorine and aluminium sulphate are added to drinking water supplies in ordinary quantities there is the extra hazard of what can happen when large quantities of a chemical are accidentally dumped into drinking water supplies — as has happened.
The fourth problem is that seems little doubt that drinking water is now heavily contaminated with prescription drug residues. And the long-term effect of all this is difficult to estimate. Minute amounts of antibiotics in drinking water can affect bacteria in many different ways. They can surely have a dramatic effect on the development of antibiotic-resistant organisms. Hormone residues can have a dramatic effect too.
How do prescription drugs get into drinking water? That’s simple. Drinking water is often taken from rivers into which sewage has been dumped (sometimes treated, sometimes not). And sewage contains significant residues of a wide variety of drugs. How are the drugs in your drinking water affecting your health? Is your daily cocktail of tranquillisers, antibiotics, hormones, steroids, chemotherapy drugs, heart drugs, painkillers and so on making you ill? How do all these drugs interact? Are they likely to be at least partly responsible for the way the incidence of cancer is increasing? Are they affecting your immune system?
No one knows.
The fifth reason why modern drinking water supplies might be hazardous to your health involves the deliberate adding of chemicals to water in order to keep us ‘healthy’. And, of course, the substance most commonly added to drinking water supplies is fluoride. This is done in the hope that it will help reduce the incidence of tooth decay. The link between fluoride and tooth decay was first established at the end of the nineteenth century and there is little doubt that fluoride may help to protect the teeth by making tooth enamel — the hard outside covering of teeth — tougher and more decay resistant. When tests done on large numbers of people showed that tooth decay is slower in those parts of the country where drinking water supplies naturally contain fluoride some scientists and politicians suggested that putting fluoride into the drinking water supplies might improve the dental health of the general population.
The fluoridation of water supplies began in America in 1945 and today the move towards fluoridation is spreading all over the world. Politicians are enthusiastic about using fluoride in this way be¬cause the end result is, of course, to cut health costs.
However, those who oppose fluoridation are able to put forward several arguments in their favour.
First, you do not, of course, have to add fluoride to drinking water in order to protect teeth. You can get exactly the same effect by persuading people to use fluoride toothpastes. And since many tooth-pastes now do contain fluoride most people already get all the fluoride they need simply by brushing their teeth.
Second, there is no doubt that putting fluoride into drinking water supplies is a potentially dangerous business. The amount of fluoride that you can put into drinking water has to be judged very accurately. If you get the sums wrong the consequences can be devastating. A little too much can cause mottling of the teeth as well as bone disorders and cancer.
Naturally, the scientists and politicians who are keen on putting fluoride into our drinking water supplies claim that the methods used are fool-proof but I think that one would have to be a fool to believe that.
Many people have already been poisoned by accidental overdoses of chemicals and in 1986 the World Health Organization (which we are now told we must always obey) published a report in which concern was expressed about the incidence of dental problems caused (caused, please note) by there being too much fluoride in public drinking water supplies.
To all this we must add the fact that since drinking water supplies already contain a number of chemicals, adding fluoride to the mixture may increase the risk of a dangerous interaction between the various chemicals in the water. Whenever chemicals exist in solution together, there are chemical reactions. I don’t think anyone really knows what the consequences are of putting all these chemicals into our drinking water.
The other anti-fluoridation argument is that a growing number of people seem to be allergic to the chemicals which are being put into our drinking water. Many people are allergic to fluoride and cannot drink fluoridated drinking water.
Finally, I am particularly worried by the fact that as the pro-fluoridation argument is won in more and more parts of the world, scientists and politicians are suggesting putting other chemicals into the drinking water supplies. One scientist has, for example, already suggested that drinking water should have antibiotics added to it (to reduce the incidence of infection and so to reduce health costs). Another has recommended that tranquillisers be added to drinking water supplies (in order to calm down the voters and allow the politicians to get on with running the world the way they want to run it). A third suggestion has been that contraceptives be added to the drinking water in order to reduce the birth rate.
You will not be surprised to hear that Antoinette and I do not regard water from the tap as suitable for drinking. We use tap water for washing things and for nothing else.
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