Removing a pair of latex gloves in a single movement with a “pop” is an art form and takes practice. Two deciduous teeth out, bite on this, a satisfying pop and I’m marching through to reception to take a call. “Mike Lennon here” said the voice at the end of the line. The last time I heard that voice was on the child dental health clinic at Manchester University way back in 1984.
So hop into the De Lorean for a quick spin. Mike, regional director of dental public health, was affectionately christened “Boss Hog” for his striking similarity to the character in The Dukes of Hazard and his straight talking. Fast-forward to 2012 and Mike, a Chairman of the British Fluoridation Society (BFS), had read my letter in the British Dental Journal and wanted to make contact with Hull LDC. The BFS as a Group are world experts on fluoridation and were keen to help and advise.
In 1984 Orwellian language, Mike talked in “old speak” and in 2012 he wanted to hear about my theory that CWF had indeed fallen in to a “memory hole”. Mike must have done something right at Manchester in 1984. Tom Robson leading the CWF campaign in the North East in 2019 is also one of Mike’s Manchester graduates. As Tom says – we all have the same hairstyle now.
Returning to the TV theme, the BFS are the Dental Public Health equivalent of the ‘New Tricks’ retired detective team. Not wishing to be age-ist, certainly mostly 65 plus but all of them with brains the size of planets and huge commitment. They have forgotten more about fluoridation than we have learned over the last seven years and, to be very honest, without them the towel would have gone in years ago. And boy they work hard at it. To say the BFS are inspirational is an understatement.
Mike was, however, a realist. Having been round the proverbial fluoridation block – the F-block - for many years he wanted to know if Hull LDC were in it for the long haul. I think we convinced him we were.
Alan Johnson was one of Hull’s MPs at the time and still the only Secretary of State for Health to state his clear unequivocal support for CWF so Mike suggested I contact him and try and set up a meeting in Hull to get the ball rolling. At this point in time the F-Word was not exactly a thought crime but it tended to be hidden in a “basket of measures” in new speak terms.
We were going for direct action – so we sent out a letter inviting local councilors to a meeting on Oral Health in the City to discuss how to improve the situation.
So in attendance at the Hull Ionians Rugby Club we had: a former Secretary of State for Health, several Councillors, NHSE Dental Commissioners, PHE representatives and this was the moment when Hull LDC made it’s pitch beside the pitch.
It was an important first step in bringing CWF to the attention of local Councillors who, at the end of the day, have the final say on policy. This is only right and proper. After all, targeted fluoridation is a local issue. The challenge for Hull LDC was describing the challenges we face daily, the poor oral health, the high numbers of child GAs, the very poor child dental health statistics, all in human terms and offering CWF as part of the solution because it is safe and effective. Councillors want to do the right thing but are also nervous about doing the wrong thing. It takes time and an attentive audience to provide the science and to reassure that most of the “googled” information needs to be critically evaluated. The best reassurance though existed across the Humber where parts of North Lincolnshire have a fluoridation scheme. As is often the case with CWF – the numbers speak for themselves.
The meeting went well and we knew we had Councillors who were supportive and understood the benefits fluoridation could and would bring to the City. But progress seems agonizingly slow, tedious and frustrating for Dentists at the front line of Primary Care. In fact it is a necessary part of following the correct procedure and rightly so.
So, in the meantime, Hull LDC chose some direct action. We pledged to try and raise CWF at every opportunity and at any meeting we attended. So we quizzed Andrew Lansley at the BDA Conference and asked questions around fluoridation on every possible occasion. Hull LDC members attended an anti-fluoridation meeting in Hull and had the first of many encounters with the “Ministry of Truth” which bottomed out at CWF turning the public in to waste disposal units for the aluminum industry and boosting the profits of the Rockefeller pharmaceutical companies. By the end many of the more neutral in the audience were leaving incredulous. At first we were the “odd” ones at professional meetings but over the next few years we could sense that slowly but surely the F-word was no longer being avoided or whispered but was slowly making it’s way out of the basket of measures to become a single measure in it’s own right.
Slowly the “double speak “ of CWF being recognised as being one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the 20thcentury (1). but being too “hard” was being countered and challenged 2+2=4.
- Centers for Disease Prevention and control: Community Water Fluoridation: A vital 21st Century public health Measure
Ten great public health achievements - Us 1900-1999
Community water flouridation a vital 21st century public health intervention