Special milk containing fluoride is set to be introduced in schools in Blackpool in a bid to reduce the shocking level of tooth decay among the resort’s children.
The dental health of youngsters in the town is among the worst in the country, with more than one in three five-year-olds having at least one unhealthy tooth.
By the time they reach the age of 12, the figure increases to 43 per cent, according to official figures.
Now health chiefs are considering offering milk fortified with fluoride in the 77 primary schools in Blackpool.
The town does not have fluoride in its water as some other towns do.
Blackpool’s Health and Wellbeing Board is being asked to approve the scheme when it meets on Wednesday.
Today, resort dentists welcomed the move, saying it is an important step in stopping the rising tide of tooth decay among children.
But critics have urged the council to think again, claiming there are health implications to flouridising milk.
If the board approves the move it would then go out to consultation, with parents and schools able to have their say on the idea.
And if it is eventually approved, parents would have the option of whether to allow their children to receive flouridated milk or not.
Health and Wellbeing Board chairman Coun Ivan Taylor said: “There is wide evidence of the advantages of introducing fluoride in terms of protecting children’s teeth.
“Blackpool doesn’t have fluoride in its water, like some other places, and you can see that in the figures regarding tooth decay. So this is another approach.
“But it would only be introduced on the basis that parents can choose if they want their children to have the milk.
“If the board does agree to it on Wednesday, the next step will be to consult with schools and parents.”
All 11,000 primary school children in Blackpool are already offered milk as part of the free school breakfast scheme, and the process of adding fluoride is not expected to add to the cost.
A report to the Health and Wellbeing Board says 37 per cent of five-year-olds in Blackpool have at least one decayed, missing or filled tooth, compared to 31 per cent nationally.
Children in the town have 3.85 unhealthy teeth on average, compared to 3.45 nationally. At age 12, 43 per cent of Blackpool children have at least one unhealthy tooth, compared to 33.4 per cent nationally.
The report says: “Dental milk schemes, using milk fortified with fluoride, are widely accepted as the next best option if water fluoridation cannot be achieved.”
Dentist Zuber Bagasi, of Synergy Dental Clinic on Central Drive, Blackpool, said he believed adding fluoride to milk would improve dental health considerably.
He said: “I have practised dentistry in a few areas of the country and have seen the effect of fluoride in these areas. Research comparing Birmingham, where there is fluoride in the water, with Bolton, where there is no fluoride, showed levels of dental decay, especially in children, slashed by 50 per cent where there was fluoride.
“Fluoride in milk would also definitely help improve the health of children’s teeth especially here in Blackpool where there are still waiting lists for NHS dentists.”
Critics argue fluoridation may cause health problems, including weakening bones and trigger gastrointestinal symptoms.
Dr Bagasi, who is also a member of the Fylde Coast Local Dental Committee, said fears about the side effects of fluoride were unfounded.
But Doug Cross, of UK Councils Against Fluoridation which is based in Ulverston, said: “Giving a blanket medication to every child in Blackpool is not the way to go. There is no sound scientific evidence that it would help reduce tooth decay.
“Our advice would be for the council to consider spending money on a school dental service.”
Blackpool would become the 11th local authority area to provide milk containing flouride after St Helens, Knowsley, Wirral, West Cheshire, Manchester, Trafford, Leeds, Sheffield, Barnsley and Doncaster.