THE BELGIAN FLUORIDE STORY

Recently the world press reported widely on the Belgian Minister of Health's controversial remarks and legislation about fluoride supplements.

Dr Stefaan Hanson of Belgium has kindly submitted the following article which conveys the facts of the matter. It makes very interesting reading!

 

1. The facts.

During July 2002 the Belgian Health Ministry issued a ban on fluoride supplements such as fluoride tablets, fluoride drops and fluoride chewing gum, hitherto available without prescription. The royal decree was published on August 1st 2002.

2. The press.

The Government's press release and ensuing interviews shocked the public and specifically the profession, because of the non-scientific references to fluoride toxicity. The prohibition was "only the first step to curb fluoride intake", according to the Administration, and Minister Aelvoet confirmed from her vacation spot that other actions would follow. Toothpaste was not included in the ban, because it is regulated by the EU -not because the Ministry acknowledged its effectiveness in preventing tooth decay. "In these cases, a harmonisation within the European Union is of course desirable but I can't always wait until the European Union is ready" says Mrs. Aelvoet. Television, radio and newspapers reported that the ban included fluoridated toothpaste.

 

3. Reactions.

Feelings ran high. The ban was issued without previous consultation with the academic or professional dental world. Universities and dental associations reacted swiftly, both in the media and to the Minister and her administration. Objections have not been against the content of the law -control of fluoride intake was only to be welcomed -but the bungled communication was unacceptable. The impression was given that fluoridated toothpaste severely damages health. The anti- fluoride-lobby took advantage and used this disinformation in a variety of articles.

Dutch, German and UK television channels reported on the Belgian fluoride ban. The Administration, in the absence of Minister Aelvoet, tried to rectify the situation.

The FDI World Dental Federation and the Dental Liaison Committee contacted us with a request for information and offered assistance.

4. Setting things right.

On her return from vacation, Mrs. Aelvoet was visibly perturbed by the negative effects of her failing communication, and urgently invited a delegation from the Belgian Dental profession for talks. The delegation met with the Minister on August 21st. Thanks to the accurate arguments of the university professors and the ample scientific information provided by the FDI, the Minister was soon convinced of the gravity of the situation. A press release followed which provided explicit information about what the fluoride ban exactly amounted to (i. e. food supplements), and stated unequivocally that fluoridated toothpaste was effective

against tooth decay without being harmful. She also pointed out to parents of young children that toothpaste was not meant to be eaten.

5. Conclusion.

Currently in Belgium, fluoridated toothpaste is available as before while fluoride supplements (drops, tablets and gum) are not any longer sold over the counter but require a doctor's or dentist's prescription. This strategy allows for effective overall caries prevention, while at the same time prevents excess intake in individual fluoride programmes.

5. Epilogue.

Magda Aelvoet resigned as Minister of Health on August 25th. The immediate cause was a controversial approval of a weapons export to Nepal. As Vice Prime Minister she was closely involved, and this provoked problems in her (green) political party. In reviews of her accomplishments the fluoride-slip is generally referred to as very negative.

Stefaan Hanson, Executive Director VVT (Flemish Dental Association)

stefaan.hanson@vvt.be

The FDI is proud to have been able to assist our Belgian colleagues in dealing effectively with this issue, through the efficient support of the FDI Science Manager, Professor Asbj0rn Jokstad .

Member Associations are reminded that scientific support is available from the FDI Science Manager. Please feel free to contact him at:

science@fdiworldental.ora

Japanese(a)