Dump your toothbrush, says Health Minister
by Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent, The Independent 23 October 2003
Children up and down the country will be delighting at the latest public health advice from ministers: throw away your toothbrush.
Drinking a glass of fluoridated water is now the "preferred method" of preventing tooth decay, according to the public health minister, and is cheaper and easier than brushing.
Melanie Johnson wrote to MPs last week informing them that brushing requires "ongoing positive personal action by the individual". But people who drink fluoridated water can protect their teeth "without needing to take any personal action".
Ms Johnson's letter, designed to persuade MPs not to block her proposals to make it easier to add fluoride to the public water supply, says "there are important reasons to consider water fluoridation as the preferred method of preventing tooth decay on a population basis".
She goes on to compare brushing with drinking fluoridated water, and concludes that the latter brings more health benefits.
She adds: "An alternative to water fluoridation is fluoride toothpaste. But water fluoridation delivers greater reductions in decay than toothpaste and reaches the whole population rather than just those who adhere to a regular cleaning regime using fluoride toothpaste.
"It is also cheaper - water fluoridation costs around 50p per person per year; a year's supply of toothbrushes and toothpaste costs around £10."
Her comments have outraged MPs, who will vote today on the government proposals in a standing committee on the water bill.
Simon Thomas, environment spokesman for Plaid Cymru and a member of the committee, said: "She seems to be saying we should stop brushing our teeth and should drink fluoride with water. It's crazy.
"These proposals are full of contradictions. She says that it is not possible to encourage people to eat more healthily. But what about all these government obesity programmes?"
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the government was "only going to encourage areas with poor dental health to fluoridate water".
Even those dentists most fervently in favour of flouridic mass-madication must surely shudder at the prospect of mass halitosis!
For a saner perspective see :