Fluoride has been a controversial addition to our water supply since it was introduced in the 1960s. Jasbir Authi asks whether we should worry about fluoride or put our faith in the experts...
Midlands residents are among the six million people across the country who have a fluoridated water supply.
The Department of Health has long said that putting fluoride ? a poisonous by-product of aluminum ? in drinking water is a very safe, a costeffective public health measure which helps to prevent tooth decay in children, particularly in socially deprived areas.
Many professional health bodies and organisations including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Institute of Health Education, lend their support to the fluoridation of the water supply.
Indeed, a survey coordinated by the British Association for the Study of Community Dentistry in spring during 2001/2001 found that children in the West Midlands have the best teeth in the country.
A 2000 survey by MORI found that 71 per cent of people in the West Midlands were in favour of adding fluoride to the water, with 17 per cent against and 12 per cent having no opinion.
However, anti-fluoridation groups have long said that low decay rates are due to better health education and there is evidence that fluoride is linked to certain cancers.
According to research conducted at the Harvard School of Dental Health, boys exposed to fluoride between the age of five and ten, increased their chances of developing osteosarcoma, bone cancer, between the ages of ten and 19.
The anti-fluoride camp also argues that it causes other illnesses such as thyroid problems and that the Government should stop plans to fluoridate beyond the Midlands and parts of the north-east.
Fluoridation is a politically sensitive subject and MPs who have recently voted against fluoridation proposals include Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and Conservative leader Michael Howard.
In 2003, parliament passed the Water Act which places the decision on whether or not to fluoridise in the hands of strategic health authorities subject to public consultation. The case of former GP Diane Phillips from Keresley End, Coventry shows how fluoride can affect the health of some people.
For more than a decade, doctors repeatedly dismissed Miss Phillips?s complaints of weight gain, mood swings, severe memory loss and muscle-numbing fatigue as depression.
Unconvinced and undeterred, Miss Phillips, now 44, set about spending much her money and time trying to pinpoint the cause of her illnesses.
After endless medical appointments and tests, she found out that she suffering from a severe thyroid disorder, which was being caused by the fluoride in her water supply.
Miss Phillips?s health started deteriorating after she moved to Coventry from nonfluoridated London to take up a new job at Coventry?s Walsgrave Hospital nearly 20 years ago.
She said: ?I was in excellent health, really active. I weighed nine stones four pounds and was swimming ten0 lengths every morning.?
?Then I started putting on weight. At first I thought it was because I was eating canteen meals and I was a doctor working really hard.
?Then my moods started gradually getting really low, I felt de-motivated and just wanted to sleep all the time.
?I just thought it was because I was a doctor working long hours.?
However the weight piled on, she suffered recurrent infections, lost her body hair, and found herself drinking lots of tea to keep warm even in warm weather. She saw numerous doctors who carried out endless tests but all her blood results came back as normal.
Miss Phillips said: ?It got so bad that I thought I had Alzheimer disease. I would look at people who I had known for ages and I couldn?t remember who they were. ?It would take me a day to load the washing machine because I would get so tired. My muscles hurt so much, it took me more than half a hour to get out of bed.?
Miss Phillips was eventually diagnosed with depression, which is linked with thyroid disorders, but she remained ill.
Unable to battle on, she left work in Feb 1997.
She re-mortgaged her house and had further tests done, some of which cost #120 a time.
A scan of her thyroid gland, which should have had the appearance of a butterfly, revealed that hers had shrunk to the size of a small circle.
In April 2000, Miss Phillips was finally diagnosed with severe thyroid disease but she was unable to get thyroid hormone replacement therapy until a year later.
She discovered that fluoride in her water supply was interfering with the functioning of her thyroid gland.
After cutting out drinking water, Miss Phillips has now largely recovered and is looking to return to work in the near future, but her struggle to get treatment has left an emotional scar.
She is against the fluoridation of the water supply and believes it should be removed before more people start suffering.