Doctors repudiate claims that fluoride is dangerous

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Eight medical organisations yesterday condemned new claims that fluoride added to water and toothpaste to prevent dental decay was harming the population's health.

Scientists opposed to fluoride are to present research today which they claim shows that the chemical causes cancer, brain damage and defects in the immune system. Dr Peter Mansfield, president of the National Pure Water Association, will present data on more than 600 of his own patients which he says shows levels of fluoride ingestion are a "cause for grave economic and symptomatic concern".

Paul Connett, professor of chemistry at St Lawrence University, New York, will stress that the gap between safe and toxic levels of fluoride is dangerously small.

The claims are repeated in a Channel 4 programme to be broadcast tomorrow and appeared in newspaper articles linked to the programme last weekend.

The British Dental Association (BDA) dismissed the claims as unfounded and said that they perpetuated the "illusion of a scientific controversy".

In a detailed rebuttal, backed by more than 20 national organisations including the British Medical Association, the Faculty of Public Health Medicine, the Health Education Authority and the Patients' Association, the BDA said that none of the claims stood up to scientific scrutiny.

No evidence of damage to bones or joints caused by fluoride had been found, or of a link with cancer, the association said. Research on its impact on the immune system was seriously flawed and there was no evidence that it increased the risk of stillbirth or of Down's syndrome in babies.

The association cited a 1978 report by the United States Consumers' Union which concluded: "The survival of this fake controversy represents one of the major triumphs of quackery over science in our generation." It added that the statement was "as true today as it was in 1978."

Mike Lennon, professor of dental public health at the University of Liverpool and chairman of the British Fluoridation Society, said: "Scaremongering of this sort is a real threat to public health. There is no doubt about the safety of fluoride at the levels to which humans are exposed."

Dr June Crown, president of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine, said the anti-fluoride lobby trivialised the problem of tooth decay. One in three children living in deprived areas of Liverpool has a gas anaesthetic for tooth extraction before the age of five, which is avoidable, unpleasant and a financial drain on the National Health Service, she said.

"Fluoride - in toothpaste and water - is safe and effective, and is acknowledged to be the single most significant factor in the widespread reduction in tooth decay rates since the Seventies," she said.

John Graham, a spokesman for the National Pure Water Association's London branch, said there was a mass of evidence linking excess fluoride with a range of adverse effects. "The medical establishment's answer is to fit earplugs. If they had a case they would not flinch from debating the issue with us. Fluoride is more toxic than lead. If someone offered you a toothpaste containing lead, you'd think twice about it."