AS the fluoride debate continues to rage in Southampton, a similar discussion is taking place across the pond.

Health chiefs in San Diego, one of America’s biggest port cities, are also pushing ahead with plans to fluoridate their tap water.

Southampton’s water supplies could be fluoridated by the end of the year if a public consultation this summer goes according to local health bosses’ plans.

They want to add fluoride to the water to tackle tooth decay in the city, as dental health among under-fives in the city is well below the national average.

Andrew Mortimore, public health director at Southampton City Primary Care Trust, said: “It is interesting and timely that these two major ports here and in the USA should both be seeking to give their populations the same level of protection that millions of other people already enjoy in the UK and USA.

“While both San Diego and Southampton are both clearly lagging behind other places that applied fluoridation many years ago, this is an important public health commitment to improve dental health through this safe and effective public health measure.”

Dr Barry Cockroft, England’s chief dental officer, has also voiced his support of fluoridation for Southampton.

However, the moves have already proved highly controversial.

Members of Hampshire Against Fluoridation and fluoride expert Dr Paul Connett, director of A m e r i c a ‘ s Fluoride Action Network, have spoken out against the proposals.

Opponents have warned of health risks such as brittle bones and dental fluorosis.

Dr Connett said: “You are allowing the health authorities to do to the whole community what an individual doctor cannot do to anyone.

A doctor can’t force medication on a patient.”

Forty-six of the USA’s largest cities already fluoridate their water. Other major cities that have fluoridation schemes include Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Dublin, Birmingham and Newcastle.

Dr Mortimore said: “Why should the people of Southampton and San Diego, and, in particular, their children, be denied an opportunity to reduce their risk of tooth decay and having those teeth filled or extracted? When we know that we could significantly and safely reduce those risks, it would be wrong of us not to propose the fluoridation of our water supplies.”