HEALTH bosses are considering the potential for fluoridation of public water supplies to improve the dental health of people in Cumbria.
Already around 130,000 people in West Cumbria – including in Whitehaven and Workington – receive fluoridated water.
Primary Care Trusts in the North West are being asked whether they want the issue of water fluoridation to be explored further by the regional health authority.
NHS Cumbria (the new name for Cumbria Primary Care Trust) has to decide whether it would like full proposals to be developed for a scheme which would enable water supplies to areas of Cumbria to be fluoridated.
If PCTs across the North West indicate they would like a scheme to be set up then proposals would be put together and go out for public consultation.
Eric Rooney, consultant in dental public health for NHS Cumbria, said that the North West, as a whole, has a problem with dental disease, particularly in children.
He said a fluoridation evaluation group was set up to look at levels of disease, look at practicalities of a potential scheme and examine the evidence around what benefits it would offer.
That report is now being considered by health chiefs.
It states that in Cumbria in 2005/06, 42 per cent of five-year-old children were affected by tooth decay.
And in Copeland in 2005/06, 45 per cent of five-year-olds had one or more decayed, missing or filled teeth.
Data looked at from other areas “suggests that fluoridation of water supplies does reduce caries (tooth decay) prevalence”. And that introducing water fluoridation would “substantially reduce” inequalities in dental health.
A number of studies conclude that the more deprived an area, the greater the benefit derived from fluoridation.
But it seems more recent studies seem to find a lower potential benefit.
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.
Many people are against fluoridation of water because of potential risks such as fluorosis (white marks in teeth).
In the report, evidence suggests that in the vast majority of cases this is mild and did not constitute a public health problem.
Cumbrians Against Fluoridation has been campaigning for eight years against what it claims is the use of an untested, unresearched chemical in the area’s drinking water.
They question the logic of adding fluoride to the water supply instead of letting people get it by brushing their teeth.