Dentist professionals have welcomed the prospect of fluoride being introduced to UK drinking water, after the UK chief medical officers made a statement citing estimates that the mineral could help reduce cavities among the country’s poorest children by 28 per cent.
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and his counterparts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland also dismissed safety concerns around water fluoridation, declaring that there was no tangible evidence that the ionised form of the element fluorine can cause cancer.
The statement comes after a long-running debate over whether fluoride should be added to water supplies, after Public Health England first appealed to local authorities to do so in 2014 for the benefit of people’s oral health.
Low levels of fluoride are naturally found in water, and it is known to help protect teeth.
In a recent statement responding to findings on water fluoridation, the medical officers said that there is “unquestionably an issue with tooth decay in the UK and an entrenched inequality which needs to be addressed”, with introducing fluoride presenting itself as a means to reduce this “common problem”.
The chief medical officers’ statement continued: “On balance, 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. It should be seen as a complementary strategy, not a substitute for other effective methods of increasing fluoride use.”
Among children aged five to nine, tooth decay was found to be the single largest cause of hospitalisation, with 23.4 per cent of five-year-olds in England and 26.5 per cent of four-to-five-year-olds in Scotland having experienced damage to their teeth in the 2019 academic year.
Local authorities have now been handed the power of deciding whether to add fluoride to local water supplies. Only 5.8 million people in England currently drink water with fluoride.
The Health & Care Bill currently at the committee stage in the House of Commons would hand the UK government the power to introduce water fluoridation across the country, if passed. Yet the Guardian reports that a move toward centralising such an initiative is not expected in the near future.
Professionals in the dentistry sector have responded warmly to the statement from the four UK chief medical officers, saying that water fluoridation will help improve oral health across the country.
Eddie Crouch, chair of The British Dental Association, said: “Every dentist will thank the chief medical officers for recognising the lasting benefits water fluoridation could bring to the nation’s oral health.
“However, these gains are purely theoretical without upfront investment. Spending here will pay for itself, and ministers need to show they are willing to seize the moment. We need a joined-up approach. Covid has left millions unable to access care, and deep inequalities are now set to widen.”
The Oral Health Foundation’s Dr Nigel Carter added: “We believe that water fluoridation is the single most effective public health measure there is for reducing oral health inequalities and tooth decay rates, especially amongst children. We welcome these proposals and believe they represent an opportunity to take a big step forward in not only improving this generation’s oral health, but those for decades to come.”
Heather Williams, owner of award-winning Orpington dental practice H Williams and Associates, believes that introducing water fluoridation could go some way toward bridging the dental hygiene gap between the rich and poor in British society, and helping the education sector recover on lost learning by recouping school time lost to dental treatment.
Williams commented: “I welcome this statement from the UK chief medical officers, and the action that the government is taking to support national water fluoridation schemes. Water fluoridation will benefit everyone but especially the most vulnerable children in our society.
“Children with tooth decay suffer severe pain and discomfort, and currently, over 60,000 school days are lost each year due to tooth extractions. Tooth decay is a preventable disease and there is strong evidence that demonstrates the positive impact water fluoridation will have our population, boosting oral health for all and reducing health inequalities in our society.”