A STUDY is to be carried out into adding fluoride to drinking water in Yorkshire after pleas from two health trusts concerned about the state of children’s teeth.
The region-wide feasibility study is being commissioned at the request of the West Yorkshire trusts who believe fluoridation may be the best way of improving dental health.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson last year urged all parts of the country to consider fluoridation which the Government says is “safe and cost effective” and ensures children in deprived areas – who have more rotten teeth – are helped.
But any prospect of fluoridating Yorkshire’s supplies will also outrage opponents who have concerns over the health effects, question the evidence of its effectiveness and object to the blanket addition of the mineral.
Calder Valley MP Chris McCafferty, who sits on an all-party group against fluoridation, said: “I’ve always been opposed to fluoridation of water. It’s medication without consent or dosage regulation and anyone who wishes may obtain fluoride tablets at the chemist or buy fluoride toothpaste.
“We’ve fought it off before and we’ll continue to oppose it.”
Earlier this year a study found that up to 30,000 children a year are admitted to hospital in this country for tooth decay and extraction, and the number is rising. Experts said the data highlighted a “major public health issue” after they found a large increase in the number of children admitted since 1997.
In February, South Central Strategic Health Authority decided to fluoridate water in its area, and now Yorkshire and Humber Strategic Health Authority (SHA) has ordered the feasibility study after being asked to do so by primary care trusts in Bradford and Airedale and Kirklees.
It will consider whether fluoridation is appropriate, affordable and possible, and will consider whether specific areas can be targeted or whether the entire Yorkshire Water area would have to be treated. If the study is positive, a major public consultation would have to be launched before it can go ahead.
In his letter to the SHA, Kirklees primary care trust chief executive Mike Potts said oral health of young children in parts of the district was “very poor” and current efforts to tackle poor dental health in deprived areas had “had some impact”.
He added: “However the previous experience of parts of Huddersfield receiving fluoridated water during the 1970s and 80s demonstrated that decay levels were lower then and fluoridation had benefits for deprived as well as more affluent communities.”
He said the trust’s board had considered the case for and against fluoridation “in some detail” and that it had decided “on the balance of the evidence available” fluoridation would bring valuable dental health benefits.
The chief executive of Bradford and Airedale PCT, Simon Morritt, said in his letter that in 2006, five-year-olds in the area had the highest levels of dental disease in the region, and added: “There is a need to establish the feasibility and cost benefit of water fluoridation in Yorkshire and the Humber.”
Replying to Mr Potts, the interim chief executive of the SHA, Barbara Hakin, said: “The study we are commissioning on your behalf will address your request: it will access whether it is feasible to focus a water supply topped up with fluoride on a particular area and estimate how much this would cost to achieve.”
Last night a Strategic Health Authority spokesman said: “The study is the first stage of an extensive process and will establish if topping up the natural level of fluoride is technically feasible.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Dental decay is far worse in poorer communities than affluent ones. Fluoridation reduces these inequalities. Academic studies show that dental health is far better in areas where tapwater is already fluoridated.”
Yorkshire Water said it did not add fluoride at the moment because it was not needed to improve drinking water quality, and said it was aware of divided public opinion over ethics and health benefits although it will have no say in whether the mineral is added.