Plans to add fluoride to drinking water will cut tooth decay in children by around a quarter and halve the numbers undergoing extractions in hospital, the UK’s chief medical officers have said.
Ministers have already drawn up plans for fluoridation, subject to a public consultation after new laws are passed.
An independent statement from the UK’s four chief medical officers says that adding fluoride to drinking water would cut cavities by between 17 and 28 per cent in children.
Their review of the evidence also says that such changes could reduce hospital admissions for teeth extraction by between 45 and 68 per cent.
Tooth decay is the most common reason for children aged five to nine to be admitted to hospital, with many enduring surgery under anaesthetic due to a lack of preventive care.
Decisions about adding fluoride to water are currently made by local councils, with around six million people living in fluoridated areas.
Arguments against fluoridation ‘exaggerated and unevidenced’
Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, and his counterparts across the UK say arguments against fluoridation have been “exaggerated and unevidenced”.
The Health and Care Bill going through Parliament will give the Health Secretary the power to order fluoridation across the country.
After the report came out on Thursday, Sajid Javid tweeted: “Good to see UK CMOs examining how water fluoridation can improve oral health & prevent tooth decay which disproportionately affects more deprived groups.”
He said the case reinforced why the new Bill would make it simpler to expand such schemes.
Research suggests every pound spent on such schemes can save more than £20 in the next decade.
The Health Secretary is expected to launch a public consultation on the matter once the bill becomes law next year.
Fluoride is a mineral naturally found in low levels in water and is known to protect teeth.
Fluoridation ‘not a substitute for brushing regularly’
In a statement to ministers, the CMOs said: “There is unquestionably an issue with tooth decay in the UK and an entrenched inequality which needs to be addressed. Fluoridation of water can reduce this common problem.
“There is strong scientific evidence that water fluoridation is an effective public health intervention for reducing the prevalence of tooth decay and improving dental health equality across the UK.”
They added that fluoridation is “not a substitute” for brushing teeth regularly, but can help even those with the worst dental hygiene.
“Water fluoridation is not a substitute for good oral hygiene, regular dental check-ups and limiting sugar intake but it has an effect even when those are absent,” they said.
Eddie Crouch, chairman of the British Dental Association, said: “Every dentist will thank the CMOs for recognising the lasting benefits water fluoridation could bring to the nation’s oral health.”