Professor Michael Lennon

Professor Michael Lennon (who died recently) was a distinguished and dedicated supporter of water fluoridation. Here, he talks about his involvement.

I graduated from the University of Liverpool in 1966. A year or so earlier I was following a laboratory course in advanced restorative dentistry. Each morning I would come through the front entrance of the old dental hospital and pass a queue of mainly children suffering the consequences of severe dental decay; swollen faces, lack of sleep, and distress accompanied by their young mothers equally distressed and their grandmothers there to hold the ring. I carried on to the second floor of the school and spent the rest of the day producing intricate restorations in artificial gold for phantom patients. You could not fail to ponder the relevance of my day. 

A few months later the British Dental Journal published a series of papers in a single issue by Peter James, Phil Holloway and Geoffrey Slack  each arguing the case for a preventive and public health approach to dental health; I was hooked. 

After a year as a postgraduate in Dundee studying public health, and forming a life long friendship with Colin Carmichael and Geoff Taylor, I joined the staff at the University of Manchester Dental School. There I worked with Phil Holloway and Tom Dowell; Phil was a passionate advocate for community water fluoridation which he combined with a deep concern for evidence-based dentistry long before the term had been invented. Tom Dowell, Chief Dental Officer for Cheshire, had already been involved in introducing fluoridation to Huddersfield and South Cheshire was now turning his focus on Manchester. Convinced of the influence of local dentists and doctors Tom recruited twenty or so of us each to phone three local councillors and assure them of our personal support for community water fluoridation and offer to seek out answers to any queries the councillor might have; my first experience as a lobbyist!

Some years later, and now a senior lecturer and honorary consultant in dental public health, I took up a part time post as regional dental officer for the North Western Regional Health Authority. Interviewed and appointed on a Thursday morning, I was contacted later that afternoon by the administrator explaining that he had forgotten to mention that the RHA had just established a Regional Fluoridation Action Group and could I attend its inaugural meeting the following Monday. There I met for the first time Dr John Roberts, the regional administrator and Paul Castle his number two. John was passionate advocate of health promotion and involved me in some of his work concerning tobacco advertising and the world snooker championship. He was convinced that by studying the tactics of the tobacco industry I would better understand the tactics of anti-fluoridation campaigners. Paul taught me the structure of a press release, dealing with the media and the importance of readable, rather than academic, English.  Paul also nominated me as a member of BFS Council.

Here I came to work alongside John Charlton, a consultant in dental public health, a member of Birmingham city council and one of the initiators of the fluoridation schemes in Birmingham in 1964. John, a political activist since his undergraduate days convinced me of the importance of the political dimension to water fluoridation campaigning.  Indeed, the British Fluoridation Society has long reflected that concern with its mix of political medical and dental interests.

Mike’s obituary in the Guardian newspaper: