HEALTH bosses have decided they would like the option of adding fluoride to more water supplies in Cumbria to be explored further.
Already around 130,000 people in West Cumbria receive fluoridated water but a possible extension of the scheme could mean Carlisle, Penrith, Barrow, Kendal and surrounding areas are also included.
Plans are at an early stage but last Thursday, Cumbria’s Primary Care Trust board agreed that the matter should be investigated further by NHS Northwest – with the backing of local clinicians and the director of public health – to assess the feasibility of a water fluoridation scheme.
They think such a move could improve public health by helping to reduce tooth decay. But members of the public attended the board meeting to express their concern.
Liz Vaughan, of UK Councils Against Fluoridation, said it was “mass medication” and warned that it caused a condition called dental fluorosis.
Showing photographs of discoloured teeth, she told the board members: “This could happen to three out of four children in every classroom.”
And Doug Cross, a consultant in environmental studies, said fluoride requires a medical licence and that there had never been an application submitted to the regulator.
He asked: “How many people in West Cumbria have dental fluorosis? We don’t know because statistics not only are not collected but they are avoided,” he claimed. “If you feel that it’s appropriate to expand the use of a substance that can cause this sort of damage then go ahead, but please be aware that the law says this substance requires a licence.”
However Eric Rooney, a consultant in dental public health, said: “Children in the NorthWest have some of the worst dental health in England, and Cumbria is no exception.
“Water fluoridation is one possible intervention to improve dental health and we already have fluoridation schemes in the West Cumbria area.”
Dr John Ashton, Cumbria’s Director of Public Health, has also said: “The vast majority of doctors and dentists in the UK, endorse the fluoridation of drinking water as a safe way to improve dental health.
“Fluoride is already found naturally in water. Fluoridation schemes adjust the amount to the optimum level for protecting teeth.”
Average levels of decay in Cumbria as a whole are lower than the North West average but still failed to meet national improvement targets set for 2003. Research by York University suggested that fluoridated water did reduce tooth decay but also highlighted the association between water fluoridation and dental fluorosis.
And a report shows that in Cumbria, during a set period, a similar percentage of children had tooth decay in the non-fluoridated parts of the county compared to the fluoridated area. But fluoridation was said to be intermittent, with periods of years when no fluoride was added.
NHS Northwest will report back to the PCT near the end of this year with a detailed scheme. If the primary care trust’s board then approves NHS Northwest’s proposals, a public consultation would be carried out next summer.