SOUTHAMPTON’S councillors will today debate whether to back plans to save thousands of children’s teeth from decay by fluoridating water at an estimated cost of 32p per tooth.
Health chiefs want to improve dental health in the city by controversially adding fluoride to the tap water delivered to two thirds of residents After nine hours of evidence and further written submissions, a special panel of city councillors set up to examine the proposal narrowly voted to recommend it is supported.
A 39-page report will be presented to fellow councillors to kick-off the debate. Test Valley Borough Council has already voted to oppose the plan and Hampshire County Council is expected to do the same tomorrow due to a lack of evidence on its safety.
Southampton Primary Care Trust, which wants to bring in fluoridation, says the scheme is the only way to improve Southampton’s poor record on dental health in youngsters.
Consultants predict tooth decay would fall by 25 per cent over the next 20 years – with the scheme costing about 32p per tooth saved.
But campaigners argue it is an unethical form of mass medication, and raise fears about side effects including mottled teeth, cancers, brittle bones, thyroid problems and lowered IQ. They say resulting fluorosis would affect 8,000 people and cost £3,000 per treatment.
Southampton councillors admit in their report: “Scientific studies, some of varying quality, can be cited to prove almost any point in the debate on water fluoridation”.
Panel chairman Cllr Edwina Cooke voted against the scheme, claiming money would be better spent targeting the children directly, such as through schools.
She said she would present the report then speak out against fluoridation.
“I didn’t feel the argument came down on either side to any great extent. I would prefer not to fluoridate when there are other means available,” she said.
Councillors will be handed a free vote on their response to the South Central Strategic Health Authority, the body overseeing the fluoridation debate. The health authority’s board will make a final decision in February.
If approved, about 160,000 city residents, and 36,000 people living in Eastleigh, Totton and Netley would have levels of fluoride in their tap water topped up from the natural 0.08 parts per million to one part per million.