BFS: Growing positivity for water fluoridation in Twittersphere

Positivity on the topic of water fluoridation is growing on Twitter where the number of supporters has grown from nil to 19% in five years. By contrast, Facebook is a platform where opposition to water fluoridation has remained constant.

These are among the conclusions drawn from a paper which compares identical studies analysing social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Carried out five years apart, in 2015 and 2021, the studies looked at the public’s perception of water fluoridation as expressed on social media. Accounts were divided into three groups, supportive, ante or neutral to water fluoridation.

It’s a topic which invokes strong feelings, with libertarians opposing the view that fluoride should be added to drinking water supplies alongside other chemicals that prevent disease, such as chlorine, which protects from cholera and typhoid. This is counter to the view of most healthcare organisations, especially dental, which support all measures designed to improve health through universal measures.

BFS member Rebecca Linney undertook the 2015 study as part of her dental degree to understand how social media was being used by campaigners. She was fascinated by the topic because she comes from Liverpool where the water is not fluoridated but undertook her dental degree in fluoridated Birmingham.

In March of this year she repeated the study to test whether there had been a change in perceptions. A key finding of her comparison is that today, 19% of Twitter accounts featuring water fluoridation support the public health measure whereas in 2015 there were no pro water fluoridation accounts at all.

Dr Linney’s other key findings are:

  • Facebook continues to be the platform where there is most negativity around water fluoridation
  • The number of anti water fluoridation pages on Facebook has increased but the number of anti water fluoridation groups has decreased
  • There are more pro-fluoridation events on Facebook
  • Today there are fewer Twitter accounts which could be described as uncategorised or neutral in relation to water fluoridation

Dr Linney said: ”I was particularly interested to see that there are more events supporting water fluoridation listed on Facebook, indicative of an upsurge of commitment to promoting water fluoridation.

“I can also see that there is now more support on Twitter thanks to the British Fluoridation Society, Public Health England, the Oral Health Foundation and many more organisations using their accounts to post informative statements and links.”

Barry Cockcroft, Chairman of BFS, commented: “This paper is really useful in understanding how important it is to continue to communicate clear and scientific statements about water fluoridation. The fact is, unless we keep active on social media, opponents will fill that vacuum. This is a most valuable piece of work.“

Barry Cockcroft named interim Chair of the British Fluoridation Society

The current Chairman of the British Fluoridation Society (BFS), Steve Bedser, is standing down after leading the organisation for five years. Dr Barry Cockcroft CBE, who was elected to the BFS Executive in 2020, has agreed to take over from Steve in an interim capacity until a formal election can take place at the BFS AGM later this year.

Steve’s contribution to the BFS has been significant. When the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 came into being, public health became the responsibility of local authorities. Steve, who was on Birmingham City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board at the time, understood the role of water fluoridation in reducing oral health inequalities. Birmingham had been the first City in the UK to have its water supply fluoridated and inspired the formation of the BFS with its mission to drive up targeted water fluoridation schemes across the UK. Steve wanted to be part of that work and joined BFS before being elected as Chair soon afterwards.

The White Paper announced in February of this year, paving the way for new legislation, signalled that the Government plans to take back control of water fluoridation schemes.

Dr Cockcroft, the former Chief Dental Officer for England, who joined BFS in 2006, commented: “The BFS is delighted the Government has accepted that targeted water fluoridation is the most cost effective way to reduce the unacceptable inequalities in oral health and by the unequivocal support of Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock.

“We will now be working to support the Government when it proposes new schemes and will also be watching the passage of legislation through the Parliamentary process to ensure that it delivers what we all want. I am delighted to be taking on the Chairman’s role at this critical time.”

After paying tribute to Steve Bedser for his work on behalf of BFS, Dr Cockcroft added, “No announcement at this time would be complete without mentioning the late Mike Lennon, who passed away on April 9. As Chairman of BFS for 20 years he did so much to make the Society an internationally respected authority on water fluoridation. Plans are being developed to celebrate his achievements. I am stepping into very big shoes.”

Barriers to water fluoridation to be demolished in radical NHS reforms

Responsibility for water fluoridation is due to be returned into the control of central Government according to a leaked document setting out reforms to the National Health Service. The news is welcomed by the British Fluoridation Society and the many dentists, public health officials and social justice campaigners who support its work.

For some time, it’s been clear that water fluoridation is supported in Westminster. The hope of campaigning organisations like BFS was that NHS England would provide the funding that is essential to implement water fluoridation schemes.

But our hopes have been surpassed. The planned reforms go much further: by undoing the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, which devolved control of water fluoridation to local authorities, the Government is breaking down numerous barriers. It is taking back responsibility for funding and implementing water fluoridation and will be in a position to  drive forward and implement schemes.

Some 6m people in the UK benefit from a fluoridated water supply and in those areas, oral health is better than in neighbouring non-fluoridated areas. Research shows that the greater the deprivation, the greater the benefit that water fluoridation bestows.

Currently, it is local authorities that must fund the costs of water fluoridation, negotiate with water companies and carry out public consultations. While there is a commitment to improve oral health, especially in children, in many areas, the cost and work involved is too high when there are many competing demands and budgets are limited. There have been no new schemes since the 1980s and plans to extend schemes have repeatedly stalled.

The proposals in the White Paper are set to make a radical difference. The plans will require legislation with implementation of reforms due to start in 2022. The Government has committed to engaging with the devolved administrations on the White Paper. BFS hopes that all areas of the UK where children’s oral health needs are highest will be able to benefit from water fluoridation, contributing to improved health and reduced inequality. 

 The leaked White Paper has the working  title ‘Integration and Innovation: working together to improve health and social care for all’ and is due to be made public this month.

New preventive approach to dental decision-making welcomed

A new approach to oral health in which prevention of dental disease is central to policy and decision-making is necessary according to Minister of Health Jo Churchill. Her words are warmly welcomed by the British Fluoridation Society. Speaking in the House of Commons in a debate on dentistry (1) (January 14th) she said she was “extremely sympathetic” to a transformation of dentistry to benefit children’s health and reduce inequalities.

She continued: “I wish to see a change in the way we approach dentistry and oral health. I have asked officials and NHS England (NHSE) to ensure that high-quality preventive work is at the forefront of future provision and that a transformation in commissioning takes place.”

On the same day as the House of Commons debate, an article (2) went live in an American publication, Salon, which addressed the issue of water fluoridation and health equality. The columnist, Matthew Rozsa began his piece by saying: ”Sorry conspiracy theorists, fluoride helps your teeth and has no ill cognitive effects, study after study shows.” The title of his piece was: ‘Fluoridated water isn’t just good for teeth it can lead to higher incomes too.’

Reducing health inequalities has become a political priority in the UK, as reflected by Jo Churchill’s House of Commons statement. But water fluoridation is among the health-promoting issues, such as vaccinations, opposed by small but vocal groups in both the UK and USA. 

One area where water fluoridation is badly needed is Hull where it has been under consideration for some years. Elizabeth O’Sullivan, a Consultant in Paediatric Dentistry in Hull, is among the many dentists who support water fluoridation. She said: “So much work has been done to educate families in oral health through a variety of initiatives but we  still we have one of the highest caries rates for 5 year olds in the UK, and up to 1000 children waiting for a general anaesthetic (GA) assessment for dental extractions.”

“Targeted community water fluoridation is the best way to reach children who have most to gain from a measure which prevents dental decay. If Jo Churchill is willing to push this forward then it can only be a good thing.” 

Former Health Minister Alan Johnson, also former MP for Hull West and Hessle, now a patron of the British Fluoridation Society said: “No public health issue has attracted more weird conspiracy theories or faced so many false accusations than fluoridation – possibly the most beneficial public health development of the past century.”

Alan continued: “Everywhere the level of fluoride in the water supply has been increased to optimal level, including in Britain since the 60s, tooth decay and extractions have reduced dramatically with absolutely no adverse effects. It’s time for politicians to begin extending the fluoridation of our water supply.”

References: 

1)  https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-01-14/debates/15169201-A026-433C-9105-D5007E11CF88/Covid-19DentalServices

2) https://www.salon.com/2021/01/14/fluoridated-water-isnt-just-good-for-teeth–it-can-lead-to-higher-incomes-too/

British Fluoridation Society transforms website into ‘information hub’

The British Fluoridation Society has updated its website – https://bfsweb.org/ – so that it is an accessible and richly populated information hub. Visitors to the website are encouraged to take out free associate membership, a category designed to help build and broaden understanding of this valuable public health measure.

BFS, which was established more than 50 years ago, has always enjoyed the support of doctors, dentists and social justice campaigners. Now, anyone who wants to be kept informed of developments in the field of community water fluoridation (CWF), whether relating to research, international collaborations, possible schemes or the work of the BFS itself, can show their support by joining the Society.

Ray Lowry, Secretary of BFS, said: “We are keen to convert followers into members, so that we are a clearly defined membership organisation, aligned with other groups whether in healthcare, politics or social justice organisations. Having a clearly identifiable support group will help progress the cause of community water fluoridation.”

He added: “It’s never been so important to communicate evidence-based arguments in favour of water fluoridation to the wider public, especially in areas where the local authority wants to move ahead with a water fluoridation scheme.

“A public consultation is an essential precursor to the implementation of a scheme. We are keen that when a consultation is announced, which may happen in the North East next year, there is an identifiable and reliable way for members of the public and the media to access the information they need.”

The BFS is currently a limited company with two categories of membership. Associate members can join for free and have the following benefits:

  • Involvement in the UK’s leading water fluoridation advocacy organization
  • Access to the members area of the website
  • Regular copies of the BFS Bulletin, keeping you in touch with fluoridation issue and events
  • The opportunity to convert to full membership

Full members, who pay a small fee, enjoy all the above as well as a greater degree of involvement in BFS activities, including attendance at the AGM and the right to vote. BFS welcomes both individual and corporate members who can join via the website.

Currently, around six million people in the UK benefit from a fluoridated water supply. Fluoridation reduces admissions of children to hospital for dental extractions by 68% in more deprived areas. The more deprived the children are, the greater the benefit. The oral health of the entire community is better in fluoridated areas than in non-fluoridated areas.

Oral health inequalities a major issue in reducing extractions, says BFS

Targeted Community Water Fluoridation (CWF) should be included in any programme to drive down the unacceptable level of dental decay in children, says  The British Fluoridation Society in a response to the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of England (FDS RCSEng).

While supporting the call from FDS (in a press release issued 23/09/20) for the roll-out of supervised tooth brushing schemes in early years settings and for a renewed commitment to sugar taxes, BFS spokesperson Ray Lowry highlighted  the important role of water fluoridation.

He said: “Water fluoridation requires no behaviour change and the evidence (1) shows that it is highly effective in reducing dental decay and delivers the most benefit to the most deprived. Let us not forget that the oral health of children in England generally is improving at the same time as worsening among those living in areas of high need.  Work to reduce decay among the most deprived is ongoing and needs to be multi-faceted.”

Dr Lowry added: “Uncertainty over public health is a worry following the disbandment of Public Health England (PHE) but their work continues to inspire and inform. For instance, their guidance on water fluoridation for local authorities and water monitoring reports (2,3).”

“Following on from its excellent green paper on prevention (4), we would like to see the Government rolling back the cuts it has made to local authorities who have responsibility for public health and allow them to invest in areas of highest need. ”

References:

1)   https://academic.oup.com/ije/article-abstract/49/3/908/5826797

2)   https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/water-fluoridation-health-monitoring-report-for-england-2018

3)   https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/774128/Fluoridation_Toolkit_-_Publications_gateway_version_20160304.pdf

4)   https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/advancing-our-health-prevention-in-the-2020s/advancing-our-health-prevention-in-the-2020s-consultation-document

Two high-profile advocates for CWF appointed to BFS

The British Fluoridation Society is delighted to announce that two highly experienced advocates for community water fluoridation are now working with the Society. Alan Johnson, former Labour MP and a Secretary of State for Health, is a Vice President and Barry Cockcroft, the former Chief Dental Officer for England, has joined the BFS council.

The Chair of BFS, Steve Bedser, commented: “Alan joins a long line of high profile social justice campaigners who have added their name to a BFS Vice President role. Both Alan and Barry have a great record as water fluoridation advocates. I am confident that both will be great assets to the society.”

British politician Alan Johnson was for 20 years the Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle where he actively supported the proposal to introduce water fluoridation. The oral health of children in this area is among the worst in England, making water fluoridation a ‘no brainer’ (1) he says. No longer an MP, he remains a champion of targeted water fluoridation both in Hull and nationally. Alan served in both the Blair and Brown Governments and was Secretary of State for Health from 2007-2009. He is now a celebrated author.

Barry worked tirelessly to introduce water fluoridation in Southampton while CDO (2005 – 2015). Supported by the BFS, the BDA and many other organisations, his impeccable campaign was ultimately successful at judicial review. Regrettably, the scheme was not implemented because new legislation – the Health and Social Care Act 2012(1) – was introduced at a critical juncture and abolished Strategic Health Authorities, consigning this important victory to history.

Barry says his commitment to water fluoridation stretches back to the 1970s.  Having been a dental student in Birmingham, where the water was fluoridated in 1964, and then moving to work in Coventry, he was also aware of the oral health benefits bequeathed by fluoride. “The difference was plain to see. It felt wrong that some children were given a much better start in life, simply due to a fluoridation postcode lottery.”

He recalls, as a young dentist, writing to a local paper in Bolton in support of a water fluoridation scheme there. Once established at a dental practice in Rugby, he provided regular general anaesthetic sessions for extractions of severely decayed children’s teeth and witnessed the devastating impact this disease can have. He is aware of how distressing it is for parents to witness their child experiencing extractions. Prevention was always a priority for him and the landmark Delivering Better Oral Health toolkit was commissioned while he was CDO England.

Of his new role on the Council of BFS he commented: “I have always been a fan of water fluoridation and being on the BFS council is a great opportunity to help move forward on this invaluable preventative measure.”

For more information, on BFS: https://bfsweb.org

References:

  1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41415-019-0943-x
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_and_Social_Care_Act_2012#Medical_establishment_reaction