THE time has come – once again – for Wales to decide whether fluoride should be added to the water supply, a politician has said.
A Labour AM has called for a national debate on the controversial issue, which has the potential to divide the nation.
Fluoride was last added to the water supply in Wales 17 years ago and many believe that it holds the key to reversing Wales’ poor oral health record.
After water fluoridation was stopped in 1991 in Anglesey, tooth decay rose by 68%.
But opponents claim adding fluoride – an essentially toxic substance – to the water is a form of “forced mass medication”.
Lesley Griffiths, AM for Wrexham, has called for a National Assembly debate on the matter, which could see AMs voting on whether Wales should restart water fluoridation.
She said, “I believe the scientific case has been made and fluoridation is one important tool that can be used in the prevention of tooth decay among children.
“In my own constituency of Wrexham, for example, research by the British Dental Association disclosed that decayed, missing or filled teeth among five-year-olds was higher than in most other parts of the UK.
“I do realise, however, some people remain opposed to the concept of fluoridation. But I believe the time has come for a frank and open debate to be held in Wales, so people can have their say on this important matter.”
The World Health Organisation has stated that water fluoridation significantly reduces tooth decay.
And the British Dental Association believes that water fluoridation is the most effective public health measure in reducing dental decay and tackling oral health inequalities.
In socially deprived communities as many as one in three children under the age of five will have one or more decayed teeth extracted.
The last Children’s Dental Health survey, in 2003, found that the average five-year-old child in Rhondda Cynon Taf has 3.05 decayed, missing or filled teeth. His or her counterpart in Blaenau Gwent has 3.49, and in Merthyr the score is 3.73.
Stuart Geddes, director of the British Dental Association in Wales, said, “There is certainly evidence that fluoride works and it is a means of getting it to the population that needs fluoride supplements.
“It would have a dynamic impact on the oral health of children in Wales within quite a quick period of it being implemented.
“The Assembly Government needs to decide whether to take this forward or not. If they don’t , they need to look at investing in other means of trying to reduce the incidence of dental ill health in Wales, which will not be as clinically or cost-effective.”
Responding to Ms Griffiths’ request for a debate on water fluoridation, First Minister Rhodri Morgan said, “There are widely differing opinions about fluoridation. Some people fear it as being mass medication and some fear it because of the yellowing of some teeth through fluorosis.
“Others say that there where high levels of fluoride occur naturally, people’s dental health is far better than it is in areas where there are not high levels of fluoride.
“I have no objection whatsoever to our having a debate to try to work out whether the arguments are sufficiently strong, especially given the poor dental health that we have in Wales.”