A global dental expert yesterday urged the government to allow fluoride to be added to edible salt to reduce tooth decay among Taiwanese children.

Wong Ting Chun, a veteran Hong Kong dentist and the first Asian president of the Federation Dentaire Internationale (FDI) World Dental Association, made the call at a press conference in Taipei on the second day of her four-day visit to Taiwan.

“It is quite urgent not only for Taiwan, but also for its surrounding countries, that the government policy is in line [with that of the FDI] to solve the problem of oral health diseases throughout life. There are two very important areas in controlling oral and dental diseases: prevention and collaborative practice of healthcare workers,” Wong said.

Wong said nearly 98 percent of dental and oral diseases can be prevented, but once diseases have occurred and progressed, dental treatment is the fourth-most expensive treatment in the world.

She said the cheapest method of prevention is through fluoridation of water, as it allows all citizens of a country to benefit.

“However, for various reasons, your country has resisted that. I can understand there are sometimes difficulties in putting fluoride or any other particular additives to drinking water, but fluoride remains the most powerful method of reducing dental decay … and cannot be replaced by oral health education” Wong said.

In some countries such as Germany, France, and Belgium, the second choice is to put fluoride in the salt used for cooking or on the table, Wong said.

Once consumed, salt goes into the bloodstream and helps people resist tooth decay by strengthening their dental enamel, she said.

Citing examples, Wong said the Hong Kong government’s decision to put fluoride in the water in 1960 has helped reduce the decayed-missing-filled teeth (DMFT) index among children born afterwards from eight teeth to 0.25.

Figures provided by the Health Promotion Administration showed that the prevalence of dental caries among Taiwanese children aged between five and six was about 79.32 percent in 2011 — far higher than the 50 percent goal set by the WHO.

Moreover, while the DMFT index among Taiwanese kids aged 12 has dropped by 2.58 teeth in 2006 to 2.5 in 2012, the country still has a long way to go to reach the global average of 1.67 teeth, statistics showed.

Association for Dental Sciences of the Republic of China (ADS-ROC) president Hsu Ming-lun said that in Switzerland, consumers can freely choose between fluoridated and non-fluoridated salt at supermarkets, with nearly 70 percent opting for the former.

“Research has also shown that long-term consumption of fluoridated salt or water can help reduce root caries prevalence among elderly people by about 30 percent,” Hsu said.

Chang Yung-min, deputy director of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Department of Mental and Oral Health, said the government has yet to list fluoride as a food additive, but several local salt manufacturers have expressed an interest in applying for a permit to produce fluoridated salt.

“Minister [of Health and Welfare] Chiu Wen-ta has instructed us to approve these applications as soon as possible. Such products are expected to be available to consumers next year,” Chang said.