Adding fluoride to water supplies delivers only a modest benefit to the dental health of children, a new study suggests.
The mineral strengthens tooth enamel but, due to improvements in toothpastes over the past 50 years, the boost to oral health of adding it to water has been largely reduced, the study by Manchester and Cambridge universities found.
However, the researchers believe it is still a cost-effective way to lower the NHS‘s annual £1.7billion dental care bill.
About 10 per cent of the English population live in areas with water fluoridation. Last year, former health secretary Sajid Javid announced plans to roll out a national water-fluoridation scheme.
The study followed almost 3,000 children in Cumbria for six years.
It studied a younger group from West Cumbria who were born after water fluoridation was reintroduced to the water supply in 2013, ensuring they had the full benefit.
A second older group, aged around five at the time it came into effect, were studied for any benefit to teeth already in the mouth.
The results were then compared with children from the rest of Cumbria, where water does not contain fluoride.
They found 17.4 per cent of younger children in fluoridated areas had decayed, filled or missing milk teeth.
This compared with 21.4 per cent for those the same age in non-fluoridated areas, according to the findings published in the journal Public Health Research.
Meanwhile, in the older cohort, 19.1 per cent of the children in fluoridated areas had decayed, filled or missing permanent teeth, compared with 21.9 per cent for children in non-fluoridated areas.
Funded by the research arm of the NHS – the National Institute for Health and Care Research – it was the first to consider the effects of a UK water fluoridation scheme since fluoride toothpaste became widely available in the 1970s.
Dr Michaela Goodwin, of the University of Manchester, said: ‘While water fluoridation is likely to be cost-effective and has demonstrated an improvement in oral health, it should be considered along with other options, particularly as the disease becomes concentrated in particular groups.
‘Tooth decay is a non-trivial disease, which is why measures to tackle it are so important.’
One in four five-year-olds in England suffer from tooth decay, and it is the leading cause of hospitalisation among children aged five to nine.
In 2020, some 35,190 children were admitted to hospital to have decayed teeth removed.
Research by Public Health England suggests adding fluoride to water would roughly halve the number of hospital admissions for tooth decay in young people.
Last year, former Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced plans to roll out a national water fluoridation scheme, costing millions.
Professor Mike Kelly, senior member of the research team from The University of Cambridge, said: ‘They (officials) can now make that decision based on the most up to date information, not on data that’s 40 years old and that’s really important.’
*Original full-text article online at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11424061/Fluoride-water-limited-benefit-improvements-toothpastes-study-suggests.html