VICTORIA’S Department of Human Services says fluoridation helps people regardless of age or education and reduces the socioeconomic inequalities of dental health.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention lists fluoridation as one of the 10 best health achievements of the 20th century with vaccines and family planning.

The internet encyclopedia, Wikpedia, says more than 100 US national and international health and service agencies and professional organisations accept there are benefits of fluoridation in preventing tooth decay.

The World Health Organisation, the International Association for Dental Research, the Australian Dental Association, Australian Medical Association and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council are supporters.

Almost 60 per cent of the US population drinks fluoridated water and Canada, the UK and New Zealand also.

Fluoridated water acts like a constant `repair kit’ for teeth, the DHS said. Six-year-olds in fluoridated areas have 36 per cent less dental decay in their baby teeth than those in non-fluoridated areas.

And 12-year-old children in fluoridated areas have 22 per cent less decay in their adult teeth than those in non-fluoridated areas. DHS also said fluoridation helps protect against root decay in older people. Every capital city in Australia, except Brisbane, has had fluoridation for 30 to 50 years.

More than three-quarters of Victorians have water with either naturally-occurring or added fluoride. Portland, Port Fairy, Nhill and Kaniva have naturally-occurring fluoride in beneficial amounts in their town water supplies, the DHS said.

Dental decay was the cause of more than 80 per cent of avoidable dental conditions requiring hospitalisation in Victoria in 2004-2005.

DHS figures show hospitalisation dental conditions are worse in non-fluoridated areas of Victoria.

A total of $5.1 billion was spent on dental services in Australia in 2004-05 and $1.5 billion in Victoria, representing almost seven per cent of total health expenditure.

For those who argue that fluoride drops and tablets are as effective, the DHS said these methods increase the risk of dental fluorisis (mottled tooth enamel) and should not be used at all.

Professor Mike Morgan, Colgate chair of oral health with Melbourne University’s school of dental science, said fluoridation was by far the most cost-effective method.

“It has maximum benefit with minimum deleterious effects,” he said. “For every $1 spent on fluoridation there is a return of $40 million in savings of oral health care,” he said. “Warrnambool, for instance, has an enormous dental waiting list with cases of severe dental problems.”