A WELSH campaign to scrap VAT on fluoride toothpaste has won the backing of First Minister Rhodri Morgan. It is hoped that the Welsh Assembly Government will now put pressure on Chancellor Alistair Darling to remove the 17.5% tax.
Campaigners believe that making fluoride toothpaste cheaper – even if by only a few pence – will help to reverse Wales’ appalling tooth decay problems, especially in children.
The breakthrough comes after the Assembly Government announced plans to teach three-year-olds how to brush their teeth properly and hand out free toothbrushes and toothpaste to children.
Wales has some of the worst levels of tooth decay in the UK, especially in the South Wales Valleys.
Community dentists have spoken of children as young as two suffering from tooth decay and having to remove all a five- year-old’s teeth because they were black.
And the British Dental Association in Wales has said some of the nation’s children have “never seen a toothbrush”.
Responding to a question from Wrexham AM Lesley Griffiths, Mr Morgan said he would be happy to write to the Chancellor to request the removal of VAT from fluoride toothpaste.
He added: “We still have above-average tooth decay among Welsh children generally, so we have to undertake a number of special steps to try to bring the oral health of our children up to the UK or European average or better.
“Undoubtedly, the supply of free toothbrushes and fluoride toothpaste in nursery schools and so on is an important initiative that we hope will help in the battle to bring the oral health of our children up to scratch.”
Ms Griffiths, who is leading the no-VAT campaign, said: “I am delighted by the First Minister’s response. Making fluoride toothpastes cheaper by removing VAT will have great benefits in tackling tooth decay in children right across the UK but particularly in Wales, when greater attention is needed.
“It is now internationally recognised that fluoride toothpastes have played a huge part in the decline in tooth decay over the last 30 years.
“The British Dental Associa- tion’s position on this is clear – less decay means less work for dentists and saving for the NHS.
“By exempting fluoride tooth- pastes from VAT, the UK government will be encouraging parents to choose fluoride toothpaste as a first option.
“This single action by the Chancellor would, I believe, have a hugely beneficial effect on the dental health of children across Wales and the UK.”
More than half the children in Wales have tooth decay, although the problem is highest in areas of deprivation, such as the former South Wales coalfield.
In Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil, children have, on average, four decayed, missing and filled teeth by the time they are five. It is fewer than two in areas such as Ceredigion and Monmouthshire.
Fluoride can help improve dental health by strengthening the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to tooth decay. It also reduces the amount of acid that the bacteria on teeth produce.
Children who have fluoride when their teeth are developing tend to have shallower grooves in their teeth so plaque can be more easily removed. It also promotes the repair of damage.
In Europe toothpastes must have a fluoride concentration of less than 1,500 parts per million.
Stuart Geddes, director of the British Dental Association Wales, said of the VAT campaign: “This is something that we would support.”