Every family should have fluoride added to their tap water supplies to stop tooth decay in children, Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, will tell health authorities on Tuesday.
Mr Johnson will urge them to increase the number of people who have the mineral pumped into their homes from six million to 53 million, to cover all of England and Wales.
Fluoride should be added to every family’s tap water, says health secretary
Mr Johnson says the substance will provide a “dental health boost” to children who do not brush their teeth regularly.
The controversial proposal will reignite the debate over the health impact of fluoride, with research suggesting it can cause bone cancer, birth defects and bone fractures.
Dentists say fluoride strengthens the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay. It also cuts down the amount of bacteria on teeth.
Mr Johnson said: “Adding fluoride 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.”
The Department of Health (DoH) says children living in areas such as Birmingham, where fluoride has been added to the water for over 40 years, have half the rate of tooth decay compared to those living in areas without, such as Manchester.
The DoH also says a review by the University of York in 2000 found water fluoridation increased the overall number of children without tooth decay by 15 per cent.
But Dr Peter Mansfield, a member of the NHS-funded review’s advisory panel, warned against a nationwide implementation of fluoride in tap water.
“The problem is that there is a lot of research on this subject, but none of it is conclusive – certainly not conclusive enough evidence for fluoride to be pumped into every household,” he said.
“Studies have linked it to numerous health problems.”
He added it was likely families were already getting significant levels of fluoride through using toothpaste and drinking tea.
Fluoride is already added to water supplies in areas of north-east England and the West Midlands. It also occurs naturally in some areas of the country, such as East Anglia.
Three British water companies currently add fluoride to water to supplies: Severn Trent, Northumbrian and Anglian.
Arguments about adding fluoride to tap water have rumbled on for decades. Campaigners argue that the substance it too unsafe to be manually added to water supplies.
A spokesman for National Pure Water Association warned that Johnson’s plans were unsafe and amounted to “medication without consent”.
The DoH will ask Strategic Health Authorities to consult with local communities before pressing ahead with the plans.
It says the latest evaluation of research in Britain identified no ill effects from fluoride.
Mr Johnson’s plans, which will not be enforced in Scotland, are endorsed by the British Dental Association.
CAPTION UNDER PHOTO OF GLASS OF WATER:
Adding fluoride to tap water can lower the rate of tooth decay