Is the fluoridation of UK tap water worth it?

Many people have no clue what the contents of their tap water are, and this has led me to do research on the fluoridation of tap water to better inform myself and others.

Upon research, I found that the tap water in London is mainly supplied by the Thames Water supply, of which 70% comes from reservoirs collected upstream from the River Thames and the other 30% comes from boreholes which bring up groundwater. This water is not pure of course, it is contaminated with small levels of fluoride, chloride, nitrate, and arsenic. In fact, there are over 330 identified man-made chemicals detected in UK tap water, found in a 2016 study.

Focusing on specifically fluoride, there have been water fluoridation schemes for more than 70 years, with Birmingham in 1964 being the first in the UK. However, fluoride does occur naturally in the environment and over 330,000 people in the UK receive naturally fluoridated water. This is greatly outdone by the number of people with artificially fluoridated water, totaling over 5,797,000 people. This means that only 10% of the UK receives optimally fluoridated water in their taps, which is about 0.7 mg, compared to the 0.5 average in UK tap water.

This led me to research the benefits, or controversy, regarding the chemical fluoride, and how it relates notoriously to oral health. Fluoride treatment is a well-known preventative measure to stop dental caries from occurring, especially in children, which is an infectious multifactorial disease that causes damage to the tooth’s surface and enamel. Bacteria in the mouth secrete acid which attacks the enamel, with time tooth decay can lead to cavities that are known to disrupt the normal functioning of the teeth.

Fluoride itself helps prevent tooth decay by making the tooth much more resistant to acid attacks from plaque bacteria, which is worsened by sugars in the mouth. My research has made me conclude that fluoride reverses early decay as it helps remineralization and disrupts acid production in already erupted teeth of adults and children. The statistics state that the benefits of fluoride on reducing tooth decay are about 25%, something that is effective because of how cheap it is to implement it in water.

Contrary to this, there is opposition to the fluoridation of UK tap water, which has focused on the aspects of autonomy and non-maleficence. It can be argued that the non-consensual imposition of fluoridation is immoral as it disregards autonomy for over 6 million people in the UK, and furthermore high levels of fluoridation have been speculated to cause cancer, specifically osteosarcoma. Nonetheless, this supposed link between water fluoridation and cancer has not been proven, as research proved that people with cancer have no difference in fluoride levels, in their bones near the tumours, than people who do not have osteosarcomas.

Furthermore, I conclude that although there is speculation regarding the morality of fluoridation without consent, and fears of high levels causing cancer, the overall benefits of the process cannot be overlooked, this coupled with the fact that it is the cheapest way to provide better oral health to the masses is undoubtedly attractive. Whether it is necessary is arguable, however to state that it has more negative effects than positive is incorrect as long as it is regulated and checked for optimal levels.

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