2 Jul 2009

Daily Echo - A change of heart needed

A change of heart needed
By Dr Sarah Goode
Senior lecturer in health and community studies and Director of the Research and Policy Centre for the Study of Wellbeing in Communities at the University of Winchester
IN all the furore about fluoridation, one would hope for some basic evidence on what is going wrong with children's teeth.
One would expect that health chiefs would know, for example, why so many little children in Southampton - aged from three to ten - have such badly-decayed teeth that they have to have hospital operations to extract their teeth.
No one in dental or health practice is so silly as to think this is caused by a "lack of fluoride": there is no such thing.
Fluorine (unlike iodine or calcium, for example) is not a substance which the body requires for any function. Other cities without fluoridated water have better rates of dental health than we do. So why do over 500 Southampton children every year have to suffer the painful and frightening experience of having their teeth pulled out under general anaesthetic?
Senior dental and health chiefs I have spoken to who are responsible for children's wellbeing in Southampton have a very simple explanation: blame the mothers. Every senior member of staff I have spoken to trots out the same simplistic mantra - it's the mother's fault, you know.
Either they are impoverished mothers who are too stupid to look after their children's teeth properly, or alternatively they are indulgent middle-class mothers who fill up their children's lunch-boxes with chocolate and sweets. Either way, that's all there is to it. No need to find out more.
It does not seem to have occurred to these professionals that their explanation is based on no more than lazy and self-serving bias - they haven't researched the situation to find out what is actually going on.
How much easier it is to blame the mothers of Southampton than to look a little more deeply.
I have designed a research project which would cost very little money - considerably less money than the £400,000 the SHA has now set aside to contest the judicial review of their public consultation. This research project would help us find out what is really going on. It would be the first study of its kind in the UK and it would help us, in Southampton, to care for children's teeth better.
What has happened to this research project? First, Southampton Primary Care Trust refused to co-operate with the study (even though it has the support of the SHA and has been welcomed by members of the British Dental Association). Then, the NHS has chosen not to fund it-
So, unless there is a change of heart, we shall probably never know the reasons why so many young children in Southampton suffer the pain of tooth-decay and dental extraction.
Let's just keep blaming the mums and mass-medicating us all with fluoride - more expensive, less effective but at least we don't have to think too hard.

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