The Department of Health has moved to allay fears that its free fluoride supplement programme for children could be axed.
Two sources, neither of whom would be named, told The Royal Gazette that the cost of the scheme came up at a recent meeting of health officials, when there was discussion about whether it should continue.
Asked if there were plans to get rid of the scheme, a Department of Health spokeswoman responded: “The programme is not being cut. While the fluoride programme has increased substantially in cost, it remains one of our most effective public health initiatives and we believe that the benefit is a long-term one, as the fluoride helps protect the teeth during some of the most decay-prone years.
“The combination of fluoride and sealants during these vulnerable years can have a lifelong benefit in reducing decay levels.”
The spokeswoman couldn’t provide information on the annual cost of the programme. She said it had been in place since September 1978 and had resulted in an 80 percent reduction in the level of tooth decay.
“The current fluoride programme is provided in schools and in homes, according to parental choice, and is largely dependent on the collaboration between the Department of Health, the Department of Education and Bermuda’s private schools,” she said.
“The Department of Health acknowledges and commends teachers for their assistance in providing this crucial public health service.
“The current fluoride programme provided in schools or at home, covers children up to the end of primary school. However, continued fluoride supplementation is also available for at-risk older children to take up to the age of 16.”
According to the American Dental Association, fluoride reduces cavities in children and adults and helps repair the early stages of tooth decay before it becomes visible.
The Association recommends supplements for children aged six months to 16 years in places, like Bermuda, where the water supply is non-fluoridated.
The Health spokeswoman said one of the aims of the Department’s current STEPS health survey was to assess the oral health level of Bermudian adults to determine what further preventive measures were necessary.
She said some countries without water fluoridation used salt fluoridation, adding: “In locations where salt fluoridation is used, no other supplements are given and such a move would result in a significant change in the way fluoride is provided in Bermuda.”
She added that other alternatives could include increasing the fluoride exposure of adults by promoting mouth rinses and periodic fluoride treatments at dental hygiene visits.
Several parents of young children who spoke to The Royal Gazette on condition of anonymity said they were not using Government’s free fluoride supplements, on the advice of their dentists here and abroad, as overexposure to fluoride at an early age can cause fluorosis, where the teeth become discoloured.
But the Health spokeswoman said: “Fluoride in toothpaste helps to reduce decay but does not eliminate the need for fluoride supplementation as it will not provide continuous exposure to small levels of fluoride throughout the day, unless it is ingested.
“It is not recommended to eat toothpaste since there are other ingredients that are unsuitable and eating toothpaste is more likely to cause mottling of permanent teeth. For this reason it is advised that young children should only use very small amounts of toothpaste until they learn to spit and rinse.
“Fluoride supplementation is still the most reliable and effective public health measure for the prevention of smooth surface decay on teeth and, in combination with dental sealants, it has resulted in a great decrease is dental decay.”