Tooth decay in Bristol is among the lowest in the country despite not having fluoride additives in local drinking water. And the decay league table, released by the British Dental Association, shows Bristol residents suffer less tooth rot than those in many areas which do have fluoride mixed into their water.
The figures come after calls by the Government for fluoride to be put into water as a way of improving dental health.
According to the research, a typical five-year-old in Bristol and the surrounding area has 0.9 teeth decayed, missing or filled.
This compares well with decay rates in fluoridated areas such as Bury St Edmunds, which has a figure of 1.07 damaged teeth per child, and Birmingham where the average five-year-old has 1.12 bad teeth.
The figures were seized on by Northavon MP Steve Webb, who is opposing plans to put the chemical in local water supplies.
During a heated parliamentary debate, he said the British Dental Association’s own figures showed forcing everyone to drink fluoridated water did not necessarily mean healthier teeth.
He asked how anyone could definitively claim fluoride helped teeth stay healthy when the Bristol area was one of the best nationally.
He said: “Those figures prove that a whole variety of explanatory factors – access to dental care, dietary habits, what appears in the water naturally and a raft of other issues – are relevant.” He used the figures to support feelings of unease in some areas of the scientific community about the chemical.
Mr Webb said: “The important point is that the evidence is not strong enough to justify adding fluoride to everyone’s water.
“It is vital to maintain freedom of choice and allow those who do not want fluoride to drink water without it. If some want fluoride, they can use fluoride toothpaste or take tablets.” Other local politicians take a different view. Dr Doug Naysmith (Lab, Bristol North West) has called for fluoride to be used in the area, arguing that “real” scientists know it helps fight decay.
The parliamentary debate, which took place on Monday, ended with the controversial Water Bill being passed through to committee stage.
It will return to the Commons in a few weeks for further debate. A vote will then be held to decide if it passes or fails.
If passed, the decision to put fluoride in water supplies will be taken from private water companies and put in the hands of local health authorities.
The Government will encourage these to add the chemical.