Public health advisory body calls for mass fluoridation of water

The Government’s public health advisory body, Public Health England (PHE), is calling for councils in England to introduce a programme of mass fluoridation of water to improve dental health.

A newly published report from PHE, ‘Water fluoridation: health monitoring report for England 2014’ states that fluoridation not only reduces tooth decay but also appears to have other beneficial health effects on health.

Children in local authorities with water fluoridation schemes (where the level of fluoride is adjusted to 1 part per million) have less tooth decay than those in local authorities without such schemes, the report says. As many as 45% fewer children aged one to four in fluoridated areas are admitted to hospital for tooth decay – primarily to have decayed teeth extracted under a general anaesthetic – than in non-fluoridated areas.  Analysts also looked for signs of harm in fluoridated areas but found none.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “This report echoes previous evidence which has suggested that fluoridating water is an effective step to help reduce tooth decay. Decisions on whether fluoridation schemes should be introduced are to be made locally. Local Authorities have been given a £5.4 billion budget over two years to help tackle public health issues and it is vital that they make sure the right services are available to meet the needs in their area.”

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in water in varying amounts. It is also present in some foods. In the early 20th century, lower levels of tooth decay were found to be associated with certain fluoride levels in drinking water. This observation led ultimately to the introduction of water fluoridation in an effort to reduce tooth decay in the populations they serve.

In England, 15 out of 152 local authorities, primarily in the Midlands, have water fluoridation schemes in place, covering six million people. The process sees the level of fluoride being adjusted to one milligram per litre, or one part per million. Another 500,000 people live in areas where fluoride occurs naturally in the water supply.

However, this is a controversial subject and the science is also not as clear cut as it might appear. Earlier this month, a paper in the Lancet said fluoride had been newly categorised as a neurotoxin, a type of chemical that has links to brain damage and IQ losses. It suggested that further research should be carried out concerning the possibility of a link between fluoride and neurological development.

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