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By Linda Jackson, The Telegraph, Sunday 24 November 1996.
A LEADING toothpaste manufacturer has paid £1,000 to a child whose teeth appear to have been damaged by fluoride. In what is believed to be the first such case, Colgate-Palmolive made a "goodwill" payment after an independent specialist diagnosed the boy as suffering from a condition linked with fluoride.
At the same time The Telegraph has also learned of research, kept hidden in America for 50 years, suggesting that fluoride can damage the central nervous system and teeth.
Sharon and Trevor Isaacs, of Highams Park, Essex, were paid by Colgate after their 10-year-old son Kevin (left) was diagnosed as suffering from dental fluorosis, where the tooth's enamel is mottled by fluoride.
Colgate-Palmolive has denied liability and refused to discuss the case. But yesterday lawyers said that the settlement was a breakthrough and would trigger a flood of compensation claims. More than 200 parents are already attempting to claim damages from toothpaste manufacturers.
They will be helped by documents just declassified by the US government showing that scientists had evidence in 1944 that fluoride could cause confusion, drowsiness and listlessness.
The discovery is believed to have been made at an atomic weapons base. Further research was ordered but vetoed six months.
Dr Phyllis Mullenix, a toxicologist at the children's hospital in Boston, unearthed the papers after carrying out what she believed was the first study on the toxicity of fluoride in rats, which suggested it accumulated in the brain and could lead to a lower IQ. "Fluoride should be treated as a drug. Dentists say fluoride reduces fillings and cavities. But there seems to be no detailed critique of the data", she said.
Sir Ivan Lawrence, Tory MP for Burton who heads a group of MPs campaigning against fluoride, said: "I think the evidence will continue to mount and there will be a ban in five or 10 years."
Julian Middleton, a Nottingham-based solicitor acting for more than 200 children with fluorosis, said the payment could help families in their battle for legal aid. "We regard it as extremely significant - albeit it has been made without liability. Fluoride is one of the most poisonous substances known to man. Experts say it is a cause of fluorosis. Yet there is nothing to say what is a safe dose for children, or to make parents aware of side effects."
Water companies have fought against fluoride amid fears of litigation. But doctors and dentists say it is effective against tooth decay. Severn Trent, Northumbria and Anglian water companies have gone ahead with fluoridation.
Mrs Isaacs said her family did not have fluoridated water and had never used fluoride tablets. "I always used Colgate's Minty Gel and the pea-sized amount as recommended. Kevin didn't eat sweets and I used to make sure he brushed his teeth twice a day. He did use to swallow the toothpaste. I rang Colgate, but they said he would be all right." Mrs Isaacs said Kevin, who was teased at school over his "rotten teeth", had now been treated.
A letter from Colgate-Palmolive shows the company believed the cost of coating Kevin's teeth when he reached 17 would be £1,000. He has since had the mottled enamel removed.
Colgate-Palmolive said fluoride was a major factor in reducing decay. Since 1990, labels recommended that only a
"pea-sized"amount of toothpaste be used under supervision for children under seven. It admitted there was a "very small risk" of mild fluorosis. Young children exposed to several sources of fluoride when teeth were developing were most at risk. But this was "very small" compared with the "huge benefit" in preventing decay.
Colgate pay-out stirs up fluoride row
By David Fletcher, Health Correspondent, The Telegraph, Monday 25 November 1996.
FRESH calls to end fluoridation of water are to be put to the Government by a group of MPs led by Sir Ivan Lawrence, the Conservative member for Burton-on-Trent.
Their action follows a decision reported yesterday, by the toothpaste manufacturer Colgate-Palmolive to make a "goodwill" payment of £1,000 to a 10-year-old Essex boy suffering from dental fluorosis, a condition in which the tooth's enamel is mottled by fluoride.
Sir Ivan, who has campaigned against fluoride for years, said: "This decision puts the issue back on the map. The pendulum is now swinging against fluoride and I believe that it is inevitable that we shall stop fluoridating water before long."
He said there was now substantial evidence that fluoride was harmful to health and he was drawing up a report to present to the Government showing that it did more harm than good.
However, pro-fluoride campaigners, including the British Dental Association and the British Medical Association, insist that the tiny amount of fluoride put into water is harmless to health but has a major effect in preventing dental caries in children. About 5.5 million people in Britain, most of them in the West Midlands and the North-east, drink water which has been artificially fluoridated.
Fluoride, a mineral found naturally in soil and water, strengthens the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to attack by the acids formed from sugar. It is most effective during the development of teeth in childhood, when it is taken into the structure of the tooth enamel itself.
Government figures show that the proportion of 12-year-olds with no tooth decay rose from only seven per cent in 1973 to 50 per cent 20 years later.
Campaigners insist this is the result of adding fluoride to toothpaste in the early Seventies coupled with the advantage of adding fluoride to the water in some areas at the rate of one part per million.
A survey by the British Fluoridation Society four years ago found that children from Hartlepool, where the water is naturally fluoridated, had the best dental health in the country while children with the worst dental health lived in areas where the water is not fluoridated. Sir Ivan said yesterday that the improvement in children's dental health was the result of greater awareness of the importance of dental hygiene and avoidance of sugary sweets and drinks rather than fluoride.
He said: "Fluoride is one of the most toxic poisons known. A fraction of a teaspoonful will kill you and there are a number of studies which shows that it has a variety of harmful effects at much lower levels."
About 200 parents are already attempting to claim damages from toothpaste manufacturers. They will be helped by documents just declassified in America showing that scientists had evidence in 1944 that fluoride could cause confusion, drowsiness and listlessness.
Noel Olsen, a public health doctor and a council member of the British Medical Association, said fluoride in water reduced dental decay in children by between one-third and one-half and posed no risk to health.Dr Olsen said: "It is perfectly safe for children to brush their teeth with fluoridated toothpaste even if they live in an area where the water contains fluoride."
Dental warning on fluoride after £1,000 payout
BY ROBIN YOUNG, THE TIMES, November 25, 1996.
THE British Dental Association gave a warning yesterday of the dangers of swallowing fluoride toothpaste after Colgate-Palmolive paid £1,000 to a boy whose teeth appeared to have been damaged because of the habit.
Colgate-Palmolive made the "goodwill" payment to Sharon and Trevor Isaacs of Highams Park, east London, on behalf of their son, Kevin, 10, whose teeth, it was diagnosed, had been mottled by dental fluorosis. Mrs Isaacs said she had always bought Colgate's Minty Gel with added fluoride and made sure her son brushed his teeth twice a day using the pea-sized amount recommended by the manufacturers. She said her son used to swallow the paste but she had rung Colgate to ask whether that would do any harm and had been told it would not.
John Renshaw, a spokesman for the British Dental Association, said yesterday: "If that advice was given it was certainly wrong. No one should ingest products that are not intended to be ingested and that certainly applies to fluoride toothpaste. A child swallowing fluoride toothpaste on a regular basis would certainly run a risk of overdosing with fluoride, which can lead to very unsightly brown mottling of the teeth."
The £1,000 paid in Kevin Isaacs's case relates to the expected cost of coating his teeth after the mottled enamel has been removed.
Dr Renshaw said: "Colgate-Palmolive seem to be opening a very big door for further possible claims, but the British Dental Association's view is very firmly that fluoride toothpaste is a valuable weapon against tooth decay. The trouble is that the concentration of fluoride in a paste intended for topical application, that is by direct use on the teeth in brushing, is much higher than the trace of fluoride that might be added to water for ingestion."
Dr Renshaw added: "We can understand Colgate-Palmolive paying £1,000 if the company is satisfied that it gave Mrs Isaacs wrong advice about her son's habit of ingesting the paste. We would be very unhappy if they paid out for any other reason."
The Isaacs family did not live in an area with fluoridated water. Health organisations are seeking further fluoridation of supplies.