SOUTHAMPTON’S health chiefs have again insisted fluoridation is the only way to combat tooth decay in the city’s youngsters.
They argue repeated attempts to improve dental health in deprived areas have failed to cut the number of children suffering rotten teeth.
The projects trialled have included handing out free toothbrushes and toothpaste each school term, brushing schemes in nurseries and reception classes, and attempts to educate parents on healthy eating, snacks and drinks.
Professionals have worked in specifically targeted areas to provide valve-less feeding cups for under-ones as part of a “bin the bottle” campaign, while encouraging breastfeeding and less use of dummies.
But while they say there has been some limited success, the city remains below the national average for the number of decayed teeth children suffer.
Southampton City Primary Care Trust now wants fluoride added to the tap water of two-thirds of the city in a bid to reduce the number of children needing operations under general anaesthetic to remove diseased gnashers.
Health bosses say introducing a scheme that people participate in “unconsciously” is the ideal way of backing up their other programmes.
They want levels of fluoride iin the water delivered to 160,000 city residents and 36,000 people in Eastleigh, Totton and Netley to be increased from 0.08 parts per million to one part per million.
Sarah Peckham, a dental therapist and oral health promotion co-ordinator for the PCT said there has already been a “huge amount of work” in Southampton to improve dental health, particularly for children.
“This has involved a large number of initiatives and is in addition to good access to NHS dentists in Southampton,” she said.
“With oral health figures in Southampton being so poor, fluoridation is a golden opportunity for the city to join areas currently fluoridated in having some of the best teeth in the country.”
But anti-fluoridation campaigners concerned about potential negative effects on health caused by the process say other countries have shown dental health promotion can bring dramatic results.
John Graham, vice-chairman of the National Pure Water Association said Britain should look at places like Sweden.
“They used a comprehensive family-based approach to tooth decay and it has been fantastic,” he said.
“They don’t have fluoridation, but have seen reductions in tooth decay of up to 90 per cent. If we were to introduce that here there would be no need to have fluoridation anywhere in the UK.”