Local residents, employees and businesses will all have a say as to whether fluoride should be added to their local water supply under proposed regulations.
Views should also be sought from voluntary public health organisations as well as statutory health and local authorities, the government has suggested in draft regulations from the Department of Health.
The proposed regulations, which are out for public consultation until the end of October, follow the announcement by the government last year that any decisions to add fluoride to water should be decided locally and not be made at a national level.
The public health minister, Melanie Johnson, said: “The oral health of the population has improved dramatically in the last 30 years, but there remain unacceptable inequalities – children in parts of the north of England have on average twice as much tooth decay as those in some other parts of the country.”
She said there was evidence that adding fluoride to water could reduce dental decay, but the decision to go down that path should not be imposed by central government. She said: “Local communities must decide whether they want fluoride added to their water supply.”
The statutory obligation for public consultation on whether water supplies should be fluoridated was created under the Water Act 2003.
Under the act, water companies must fluoridate supplies if requested to do so by their local strategic health authority. But the health authority decision must follow public consultation. Details of how that consultation should take place and who should be consulted are detailed in the draft regulations.
The fluoridation of water has been dogged by controversy. Water authorities have had the power to fluoridate supplies since 1985 but have not done so for fear of legal action by anti-fluoride campaigners who argue that fluoride has health risks. On the other hand the government, supported by the British Dental Association, is in favour of fluoridation, claiming it reduces tooth decay.
The Green party, which opposes compulsory fluoridation and supports claims that adding fluoride to water has associated health risks, welcomed the consultation proposals.
The party’s health spokesman, Martyn Shrewsbury, added: ” We welcome the decision to consult locally so long as the process is balanced and that both sides are invited to put their arguments on a level playing field.”