- UK Chief Medical Officers recommend adding fluoride to the water supply
- This will reduce cavities by up to 28% and hospitalizations for caries by 68%.
- Health Secretary Sajid Javid is reportedly keen to implement the policy
Everyone in Britain should add fluoride to their water, health officials ruled today as they dismissed ‘exaggerated’ cancer fears.
Four UK chief medical officers say adding minerals to water will help combat tooth decay, which costs the NHS millions each year.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid is keen to pursue the move, so ministers are likely to accept the advice.
The health and care bill currently running through parliament would allow ministers to head councils to order the addition of fluoride to drinking water across the country.
About 5.8 million Britons live in areas where fluoride – also added to toothpaste and mouthwash – is already stored in tap water. And the rocks in the ground supply 300,000 drinks containing fluoride naturally.
Professor Chris Whitty and fellow officials recommended that the plan be widened to include the rest of the country.
Health officials said tooth decay is largely preventable and the NHS is heavily burdened, costing healthcare £54.6 million to treat children in 2019 alone. Adding fluoride to water can prevent two-thirds of hospital tooth decay.
People can get fluoride on their teeth by using certain toothpastes or by having a dentist apply the mineral to their teeth. But adding it to the water supply in parts of the UK where it is currently at low levels would reduce cavities by 28 per cent and cut hospital admissions for tooth decay by two thirds.
Professor Whitty and colleagues wrote: ‘Tooth decay and a deep disparity in the UK is undeniably an issue that needs to be addressed.
‘Water fluoridation can reduce this common problem.’
Calls to expand the scheme, which cost at least 40p per person per year, have drawn criticism in the past.
Some have warned that the mineral may increase the risk of babies being born with Down syndrome, kidney stones and certain cancers.
Professor Whitty and his colleagues today dismissed the concerns as “exaggerated and baseless”.
Experts today welcomed the move, saying it would improve oral health “for decades to come”.
What is fluoride?
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in water and helps prevent tooth decay.
But how much fluoride is in people’s water depends on which part of the country they live in.
The mineral is added to the water supply in some countries to promote oral health, a process known as fluoridation.
People can also get fluoride on their teeth by using certain toothpastes, eating certain foods such as spinach and grapes, or by having a dentist apply the mineral to their teeth.
Water fluoridation is not a substitute for dental hygiene, but can improve oral health by the entire population without the need for behavioral changes.
By the age of five, about a quarter of children in England and Scotland will have lost teeth, compared to more than a third in Wales and over 40 percent in Northern Ireland.
Mouth disease, which gets worse if left untreated, is triggered by a sugary diet, poor dental hygiene, and a lack of fluoride.
It can cause pain and difficulties in eating, sleeping as well as socializing and may harm children’s education due to absenteeism – six percent of under-16s in England suffer tooth decay over a period of six months it happens.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in water and some foods – but water content varies across the UK due to geological differences.
According to the British Fluoridation Society, only 10 percent of the UK population gets water with adequate fluoride levels.
These regions include parts of North Hampshire and South Berkshire.
In a statement to ministers, Professor Whitty and his colleagues said that if all five-year-olds had less than 0.2 milligrams per liter (mg/l) of fluoride in their drinking water, they could drink water with 0.7 mg/l. start drinking, the number of cavities will drop by 28 percent in the poorest people.
He said hospital admissions for tooth decay would be reduced by 45 to 68 percent.
By the age of five, about a quarter of children in England suffer from tooth decay, which can cause pain.
About 35,000 children are hospitalized every year to have rotten teeth removed.
This is due to a sugary diet. The bacteria in the plaque convert the sugar into acid, which breaks down the surface of the teeth, leading to cavities.
Professor Whitty’s report was dismissed as a ‘small risk’ that the program would increase rates of dental fluorosis – stains on teeth that can range from very white lines to mild to severe discoloration – if teeth are too high. Exposure to fluoride.
It acknowledged a ‘weak study’ that said fluoride may increase the risk of hip fractures and bladder and bone cancers.
But the chief medical officers – Dr Frank Atherton for Wales, Dr Michael McBride for Northern Ireland and Dr Gregor Smith of Scotland – said the evidence to support the claims was ‘conflicting’.
He added: ‘The prevailing public health opinion now is that there is no significant association between water fluoridation and these conditions.
‘As with all things in medicine and public health, there is a balance of risks and benefits.
‘On balance, there is strong scientific evidence that water fluoridation is an effective public health intervention to reduce the prevalence of tooth decay and improve dental health equity across the UK.’
The World Health Organization recommends that fluoride should not go above 1.5 mg/l, which is more than twice the level proposed by the report.
Just 6.1 million Britons – about 10 percent of the population – are currently receiving water with fluoride levels …