Health

Millions will get fluoride added to their tap water in biggest expansion of controversial scheme since the 1980s

Millions more Brits will get fluoride added to tap water in a Government plan to improve their oral health.  

Revealed as part of the Government’s long-awaited dental recovery plan the fluoride expansion will see an initial 1.6million people having the mineral added to their drinking supply.

Areas included in the initial expansion are Northumberland, Teesside, Durham and South Tyneside, though there will be a consultation. 

And more could be on the way with ministers saying their long-term ambition is to bring fluoride to more of the country with a ‘particular focus’ on deprived areas. 

Fluoride is natural mineral that boots dental health by helping strengthen the hard outer protective layer of teeth, called the enamel, which in turn protect the tooth from damage and wear and tear.

Millions more Brits will get fluoride added to tap water in a Government plan to improve their oral health (stock image)

Just 6.1million Britons ¿ around 10 per cent of the population ¿ currently received water with fluoride levels sufficient to benefit oral health, according to the British Fluoridation Society. These areas include Hartlepool, Easington, parts of North Hampshire and South Berkshire

Just 6.1million Britons — around 10 per cent of the population — currently received water with fluoride levels sufficient to benefit oral health, according to the British Fluoridation Society. These areas include Hartlepool, Easington, parts of North Hampshire and South Berkshire

But adding fluoride to water supplies isn’t without controversy.

Some have warned that the mineral can increase the risk of babies being born with Down’s syndrome, kidney stones and some cancers. 

However, the NHS and experts like the Government’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty say these claims are not backed up by evidence, with the latter previously describing them as ‘exaggerated and unevidenced’. 

Around 5.8million Britons live in areas where fluoride – also added to toothpastes and mouthwashes – is already placed in tap water. And 300,000 drink supplies naturally fluoridated by rocks in the ground. 

In total, only 10 per cent of the UK’s population currently get water with sufficient fluoride levels, according to the British Fluoridation Society. 

Health bosses have estimated that adding fluoride to more water supplies could prevent two-thirds of hospital admissions for tooth decay, an issuing costing the NHS, and by extension the taxpayer, millions. 

While adding fluoride to water, a process called fluoridation has been done before in the UK, expansion of the scheme has largely stalled since the 1980s.

Modern attempts to bring to British communities have largely failed during the consultation stage, with the public not convinced of the benefits compared to the perceived risk. 

Fluoridation is a flashpoint issue in the US, with Presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr earlier this week labelling it a ‘neurotoxic’ and vowing to remove it from drinking supplies if elected. 

The Government’s dental recovery plan, published this week, includes fluoridation as a core component.

‘Under new legislation, we have made it simpler to start new water fluoridation schemes,’ it reads.

‘Our long-term ambition is to systematically bring fluoridation to more of the country, with a particular focus on the most deprived areas, which stand to benefit most from fluoridation.’

In 2021, Professor Whitty and colleagues said if all five-year-olds with drinking water containing less than 0.2 milligram per litre (mg/l) of fluoride started drinking water boosted to 0.7 mg/l, the number with cavities would fall by up to 28 per cent among the poorest communities.

Fluoridation is considered to be a low cost high impact public health initiative as it is passive and not reliant on people actively changing their behaviour compared to encouraging them to stop smoking, exercise more or eat healthier food.  

But some experts have argued that since fluoride is now added to a number of toothpastes and mouthwashes adding it to tap water is not as beneficial as it once was. 

About 25 countries around the world already add fluoride to tap water, including Ireland, the majority of the US and Australia. 

NHSProfessor Chris Whitty

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