Fluoride Action Network

Secretary of State calls for debate on fluoridation to improve dental health

Source: GNN - Government News Network | February 5th, 2008 | Department of Health
Location: United Kingdom, England

New government funding and guidance to help facilitate local fluoridation schemes

Health Secretary Alan Johnson today urged the NHS to consider fluoridating tap water for those areas with poor dental health to help prevent tooth decay and reduce health inequalities.

£14 million per annum extra funding will be made available over the next 3 years by the Government to those Strategic Health Authorities who, following consultations, find that the local community is in favour of the introduction of fluoridation schemes to improve the dental health.

Academic studies show that oral health is better in areas where tap water is already fluoridated and that the number of children with tooth decay decreases by 15%. In practice the benefits are even greater. For example, children in fluoridated Birmingham have half the cases of tooth decay than children in non-fluoridated Manchester.

To help Strategic Health Authorities assess the level of public support for local fluoridation schemes, the Department is also today issuing revised guidance to ensure local consultations are conducted in a fair and objective way, with benefits and risks being properly considered.

Alan Johnson said:

“Fluoridation is scientifically supported, it is legal, and it is our policy, but only two or three areas currently have it and we need to go much further in areas where dental health needs to be improved. It is an effective and relatively easy way to help address health inequalities – giving children from poorer backgrounds a dental health boost that can last a lifetime, reducing tooth decay and thereby cutting down on the amount of dental work they need in the future.

“But there are people who hold strong views on this subject, so it is important that any proposed schemes are fully and widely consulted on. The guidance published today will help local health bodies to ensure there is an opportunity for everyone to put forward their views. The extra funding I am announcing means that, should local people decide to support fluoridation, SHAs have the resources to implement it.”

Fluoride has been added to Birmingham’s tap water for over forty years. Its residents are among the 5.5 million UK citizens whose water fluoridation has been already funded by the NHS. A further half a million people live in areas in which fluoride occurs naturally in the water.

This new government funding will allow SHAs in areas of poor dental health to meet the capital cost of fluoridation schemes without depleting funds designated for other health needs and facilities.

Notes to editor

In 2000 the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at the University of York published a report of a systematic review of the evidence on fluoridation, which concluded that the fluoridation of water increased the number of children without tooth decay by 15 per cent and that children in fluoridated areas had, on average, 2.25 fewer teeth affected by decay than those in non-fluoridated areas.

All water contains some fluoride. About half a million people in this country receive water which is naturally fluoridated at, or about, the optimum level for dental health of one part of fluoride per million of water. A further 5.5 million people receive water where the fluoride content has been increased at the request of the NHS to a level of one part per million. No ill effects to overall health have been identified. Major schemes are in operation in Birmingham and the West Midlands, and also in Tyneside, with the cost borne by the health service rather than water customers.

Water fluoridation is governed by the Water Industry Act 1991 as amended by the Water Act 2003. The Act gives Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs) the responsibility of deciding the need for fluoridation and consulting locally about any proposals to fluoridate local water supplies.

The Chief Dental Officer, Barry Cockcroft, has today issued guidance to SHAs and Primary Care Trusts on the scientific evidence on fluoridation, the planning of new fluoridation schemes, the conduct of public consultations, and the implementation of new schemes.