“YOU will stay safe and your children’s teeth will be healthier.”
That is the message from the people driving controversial moves to add fluoride to water supplies as it was revealed hundreds of Southampton toddlers are having their teeth pulled out in hospital because of decay.
More than 500 city youngsters a year, aged one to four, are undergoing operations under general anaesthetic to have teeth extracted, while yet more are having needles in the gum to have them pulled out in dentist chairs, according to Public Health England (PHE).
But the organisation says that number could be almost halved every year if fluoride is added to the tap water of tens of thousands of Hampshire homes.
It comes as a legal row continues over who will decide whether the chemical is introduced in Southampton and parts of Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams.
Campaigners fear fluoride comes with serious health risks and say there is no evidence it can help lower the number of extractions among children.
But PHE, which yesterday released a major report into fluoridation in England, insists evidence shows the chemical is safe and will improve the dental health of youngsters in Southampton.
PHE chief knowledge officer Professor John Newton told the Daily Echo: “The case for fluoridation in Southampton is still very strong and we can quantify that.
“The report provides further reassurance that water fluoridation is a safe and effective public health measure.”
‘Benefits’ Prof Newton once spearheaded the case for fluoridation in Hampshire water supplies when he was the regional director of public health for the nowdisbanded South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA).
And he is hopeful the plan can be resurrected.
“No decision has been taken about proceeding or not,” he said.
“We would like to get on with it and we are working as hard as possible. The benefits of fluoridation go on for decades so it is more important to get it right than to get it done quickly.
“The report today is based on worldwide evidence that it is safe and effective and it will have worthwhile benefits for the people of Southampton.”
As previously reported, the future of the scheme has been in doubt ever since the SHA was axed.
Work is going on behind the scenes to say on whether it gets the goahead.
In other parts of the country, local authorities can run consultations and then apply to the Secretary of State for the chemical to be added.
Southampton City Council leader Simon Letts has said he is a supporter of the idea – but that it should be decided by a local referendum.
PHE yesterday released the first national report on the matter, finding that there is no evidence the chemical leads to an increased risk of diseases such as cancer.
On average, 15 per cent fewer five-year-olds have tooth decay that needed intervention in fluoridated areas, the authors said.
And when deprivation and ethnicity – both important factors for dental health – are taken into account, this figure rises to 28 per cent fewer cases of tooth decay.
Meanwhile there are 11 per cent fewer 12-year-olds with tooth decay in fluoridated areas compared to non-fluoridated areas.
‘Limitations’ This figure rose to 21 per cent when deprivation and ethnicity were taken into account, the authors said.
And in areas which participate in the water adjustment scheme, there are 45 per cent fewer hospital admissions for tooth decay among children aged one to four.
In England, 14 out of 152 local authorities have water fluoridation schemes in place – covering six million people.
In these areas the level of fluoride in the water is adjusted to one part per million. In the latest report, experts measured the dental health of five-year-olds with baby teeth and 12-year-olds with adult teeth from fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas.
Professor Stephen Peckham, from the campaign group Hampshire Against Fluoridation, said the report had “limitations” and that a more thorough study was needed.
“I am pretty clear that there is no good evidence to show that water fluoridation reduces the number of tooth extractions for dental decay.
“The report overstates the benefits of fluoridation.
“A lot of the evidence is inconclusive and demands the need for much better studies.”