BLOWN out of the water.
That is what campaigners fighting plans to add fluoride to Hampshire water supplies say new dental health figures have done to health bosses’ justification for the scheme.
A survey of five-year-olds across England has found Southampton children suffer barely any more tooth decay than the national average.
The research found the number of five-year-olds in the city who have had problems with their teeth has fallen dramatically, as has the average number of diseased teeth.
With Southampton’s poor record on youngsters’ dental health given as one of the main reasons it is necessary to fluoridate the water supplies of nearly 200,000 residents, opponents now say there is no reason to go ahead with the scheme.
But health chiefs last night said changes in the way the statistics were collected mean they cannot be accurately compared with previous surveys.
And bosses at South Central Strategic Health Authority vowed to carry on with work to introduce fluoridation in parts of Southampton, Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams, possibly before the end of next year.
The survey shows 31 per cent of all city five-year-olds have experienced tooth decay, which is a 26 per cent drop on the figures from 2005/6, and only slightly worse than the England average of 30.9 per cent. The average number of teeth every youngster in Southampton has decayed, missing or filled on average has also been cut by 35 per cent to 1.13, while across the country the figure is 1.11.
Both figures show there is less tooth decay than recorded at any time this decade, and are better than the results from Birmingham, which has been fluoridated since the 1960s.
Hampshire Against Fluoridation member Dr Stephen Peckham, a reader in health policy at the Department of Public Health and Policy, said: “It blows a hole in what they have consistently said that Southampton has some of the worst teeth in the country – that’s patently not true, and probably never was.
“It will completely change the economic analysis and I think the whole thing is so shaky that the noble thing to do would probably be to accept they were wrong in the first place.
“Southampton is about average for England, and you would expect it to have higher rates of decay because of deprivation, so the city’s actually doing quite well.
“(The PCT) has been telling us they’ve been doing all these things, and maybe they’re working after all, so they should be congratulated.
“It would save the SHA and the public purse a lot of money and allow us to focus on targeting children most in need and think about ways the service could be improved.”
City health bosses last night said an important change in the way children were surveyed mean the statistics cannot be fairly compared with previous results.
Southampton’s public health director, Dr Andrew Mortimore, said the newly-introduced need for parental permission, rather than. assumed consent, meant a third of youngsters invited into the survey were not examined, and they were likely to be those with the worst dental health.
“The Centre for Public Health, which published these figures, has publicly stated when releasing these latest results that the positive consent now required for the survey means that ‘bias resulting from non-response cannot be ruled out’ and that ‘direct comparisons with previous surveys should not be made’,” he said.
Dr Mortimore added Southampton’s figures are still above national averages and can be improved.
“Alongside good dental access in the city, NHS Southampton City will continue its extensive oral health promotion programmes and continues to fully support water fluoridation as a safe and effective method of reducing tooth decay and dental inequalities,” he said.
But Southampton and Romsey MP Sandra Gidley, who has campaigned against fluoridation, urged the SHA to reverse its decision in light of the findings.
“The people of Southampton would welcome such a move and it would do a lot to restore faith in the board,” she said.
“After all, their justification for fluoridation has just gone down the plug hole.”
AFTER health bosses gave the plans the green light in February, South Central Strategic Health Authority has been working to make fluoridation a reality, while campaigners have been doing their best to stop it.
The authority has been in talks with Southern Water about how the scheme would work practically, and how much it would cost.
Original estimates suggested it would take around £470,000, with that bill being picked up by the Department of Health, but SHA bosses admitted that figure could ultimately “double or triple”.
Once the infrastructure is in place, NHS Southampton City will then pay the estimated £60,500 yearly running costs out of its annual £9.5m dental health budget.
The SHA had hoped to see the first fluoride added to the water sometime during 2010, but a judicial review into the decision making process could scupper that.
Southampton resident Geraldine Milner has lodged a legal challenge on two bases, which the SHA has set aside £400,000 to fight.
Her arguments the SHA should have taken more account of public opinion have been accepted and will be the subject of a judicial review hearing, probably next year.
But the High Court judge refused to accept her claim the SHA failed to properly look at all the evidence submitted during the consultation.
That decision has itself been challenged, and an appeal will be heard at London’s Royal Courts of Justice before Christmas.
There have also been calls, backed by the Daily Echo, for residents to be given a referendum on the issue because the majority voice was ignored on the issue.
Health chiefs push ahead with fluoride
HEALTH bosses last night remained adamant that fluoridation is necessary for Hampshire. A spokeswoman for South Central Strategic Health Authority insisted it is still committed to the scheme, despite the improved dental health figures in Southampton.
“We are pleased that children in the South Central region have, on average, better dental health than many other places in England. However, the regional data does hide significant pockets of poor dental health in some of the big towns and cities in our region.”
She said tooth decay was entirely preventable and they were committed to giving children the best chance with a range of programmes to combat the disease.