Controversial plans to add fluoride to the water supply in a bid to improve dental and oral health should be put to a ‘free vote’, city bosses have said.
Leaders at Sunderland City Council are considering the proposals, which experts say could reduce the number of people suffering cavities.
But there are also concerns about the possible side effects of such as move, which would also affect supplies in County Durham and South Tyneside.
“The evidence on both sides is limited and of poor quality,” said Coun Darryl Dixon.
“Our report, when it’s finished, will go to cabinet and after that the changes will go to the [political] groups for discussion and my opinion is it would then go to a free vote.
“There would then need to be a three-month consultation with the public – it is not a quick process, it’s a long and complex one and it’s not just us, it’s also County Durham and South Tyneside.”
He added: “It’s a complicated and divisive issue and it’s been around for a long time.”
Coun Dixon was speaking at a meeting of Sunderland City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee, which he chairs.
About a tenth of the UK’s population currently receives fluoridated water although the rest of Europe relies on other methods, such as fluoridated salt and milk.
Some studies of the impact of fluoridation have found a ‘very small reduction in IQ’ among some children, although others found no change or even a ‘slight increase’. Although evidence seen by councillors has shown an increase in thyroid problems, which can be linked to weight gain and depression, among other symptoms, in fluoridated areas, such as the West Midlands.
“This isn’t the sort of issue you can run a randomised trial on,” Kathryn Bailey, a public specialist for the council, told the panel, explaining some of the problems with the available evidence.
“If you look at data collected on the health of people in different areas with fluoride, people in fluoride areas tend to have better oral health.
“But it’s not just about the science, it’s also about people’s views and opinions – if we put fluoride in the water we essentially take people’s choice away.”