The government has promised not to impose a national programme to add fluoride to the water supply.
Only 11% of the population have fluoridated water
MPs were debating fluoridation as part of the second reading of the Water Bill in the Commons.
Environment minister Elliot Morley said the decision would be made by health authorities and the local population.
Dentists say adding fluoride to water supplies would improve dental health, but critics say it could be harmful.
Mr Morley told MPs: "We're not planning to put in place a central, national fluoridation programme.
"On the contrary, we believe that the choice should be made locally, and we also believe that people should have that choice."
He said that he understood the strength of feeling on both sides of the argument, and promised there would be a free vote on the issue.
David Lidington, Shadow Environment Secretary, said consumers should have the choice over whether fluoride should be added to water.
Water companies have had the power to add fluoride to water supplies since 1985, and around five million people, in areas including Birmingham, do drink water containing fluoride.
But in many areas, water companies have not added fluoride to their water supplies because of fears of legal action by those opposed to the move.
The proposed amendment to the Bill, backed by the Lords last month, would mean local health authorities in England and Wales could indemnify water companies, if local people want fluoride added to their supplies.
Dentists say fluoride would have significant benefits for children's dental health, reducing tooth decay.
They point to areas like Manchester, where fluoride is not added to the water supply, which has three times the rate of tooth decay found in Birmingham.
But critics fear fluoride could be linked to increased risks of cancer, hip fractures, kidney trouble and birth defects, although the government has insisted there is no evidence to suggest it would be dangerous to add the chemical to water.
Professor Liz Kay, scientific advisor to the British Dental Association, told BBC News Online: "All the scientific research that has been done has shown that fluoridation has a beneficial effect on children's health.
"Fluoridation does make a difference."
She added: "The evidence is absolutely overwhelming, with a 50% reduction in tooth decay where there is fluoridation.
Spencer Fitzgibbon of the Green Party, who compiled a report on the dangers of adding fluoride to water, told BBC News Online: "Studies from around the world have shown there is no significant difference in rates of tooth decay between fluorided and non-fluorided areas.
"The York Review on fluoridation, commissioned by the government, said there was 'little evidence' it would be beneficial."
What do you think? Should fluoride be added to water? Click Here or scroll to the bottom of the page to send us your views.
Water fluoridation is safe as long a there are public health safeguards in place to avoid excessive exposure. Tooth decay remains the world's most prevalent preventable disease, especially in those populations, large and small that DO NOT intake fluoridated water, milk, sugar or other controlled access to fluorides. Instead of focusing on excessive ingestion, why not focus on controlled ingestion and toxic waste and other environmental sources of excess fluoride and how the excesses get into our food chain throughout the world.
As a child, my parents gave me fluoride supplement tablets, when I still had my milk teeth. When my adult teeth grew through they were discoloured. I was told by my dentist that this was due to having too much fluoride, however my teeth are very healthy. At the moment most people get fluoride from toothpaste, however by adding it to tap water will obviously reach more people. I agree that having fluoride added to water would mean that teeth will probably be stronger, but a what cost? Fluoride is a toxic substance, and I think it should be up to the individual to decide if they want it. I also think that if this is done nationally, toothpaste companies should reduce the amount they put in their products.
I look after my teeth and currently have no fillings and I object to having more chemicals introduced into my body, and possibly having to deal with the side effects because people can't and won't control what they eat and drink. It's up to parents to control their child's diet.
Tim Lawrence, UK
As a person that strives to have the perfect set of knoshers I think this is a good idea. If there is no evidence to back up those claims about the birth defects etc. people should be given the right to be able to choose whether they want the chemical in their water. For centuries we English have been stereotyped as a nation of bad teeth and a move like this would help show that we do not pride ourselves on such a hideous past. I back it 100%.
ray, United Kingdom
Absolutely not. There are far better, healthier and less defeatist methods of reducing tooth decay, such as tackling the country's addiction to sugar, in the form of snacks, drinks and all kinds of processed food products. This approach does not involve the kind of side-effects being attributed to fluoride (which is an industrial waste product). Fluoridation is compulsory medication and a "big brother" development which should not be allowed. Surely prevention is better than cure?
Richard Hughson, Scotland
I think the proposed laws are a good approach and would expect most people to agree with them. My parents gave me fluoride tablets as a child but I'm sure I was one of the lucky ones. The forced medication thing seems like a non-issue as fluoride is naturally occurring and harmless at the levels used in drinking water.
Rob Wall, England
It is the purpose of drinking water treatment to provide clean, safe, and wholesome water for potable use. This definition does not include mass medication. If people want to dose themselves and their children with fluoride they can do so using toothpastes and fluoride drops. Less than 1% of water treated for potable purposes is actually used for this purpose. It seems such a waste of precious fluoride to dump this extract of fertiliser production into our drinking water supplies.
Dr Tony Byrne,
Fluoride should not be added to water supplies without the consent of the consumers. There are many indications that fluoride is not only ineffective against dental decay, but may actually be harmful to health. Studies have shown increased incidence of various cancers in areas that are fluoridated.
Rixon Stewart, UK
When they attempted to fluoridate the drinking water in Hawaii in the past four years and failed, many people realized how important it is to protect our pure drinking water, especially when there are so many alternative ways to deliver fluoride. The interesting thing though is that the cavities were not due to lack of fluoride in the water but the failure of the Health Department to have and maintain an effective education program to prevent "baby bottle tooth decay" also known as "early childhood caries" If you have questions as to whether fluoridation fixes the problem, check with cities such as Boston or Cincinnati, fluoridated since the 1970's, who still have major dental crisis because of baby bottle teeth and the lack of dental care.
Fluoride should not be added to the public water supplies. Artificial fluoridation of public water supplies would involve the addition of a man-made compound (hexafluorisilicic acid) which has never been tested as a medicine. This proposed solution to the problem of poor dental health in children involves mass-medication of the entire population and the environment using a toxic waste product of the fertilizer and aluminium industries.
A healthy diet with no sugar or fizzy drinks combined with regular twice daily brushing of teeth would improve the poor dental health of children everywhere.
Kate Thompson, Scotland
In Australia they have been adding fluoride to the water for more than 2 decades. Would it be so difficult to look at the figures produced by their Health Authorities?
Jerome Alexander, UK
As I am allergic to fluoride, just what am I supposed to do? Drink bottled water, bath in bottled water, prepare my food in bottled water?
Should I carry my own supply of bottled water around with me, since I shall be unable to accept drinks offered by friends?
Does anybody make big enough bottles for the supply which I shall obviously need?!!!
I would of course have no hesitation in taking legal action against any water company who had forced the supply upon me.
I live in a fluoridated area. Until recently, I thought it was a good idea because it was good for children's teeth. I trusted dentists, but actually I have found out that Fluoride doesn't guarantee good teeth, that dental caries is caused by bad diet, churned out by the supermarkets more cheaply than real food. I now know that the symptoms of fluoride poisoning are very similar to my own hypothyroid symptoms, and that friends who have developed thyroid disease have great difficulty in having their impairment properly diagnosed. Hashimotos disease may even be triggered by fluoride, which would make sense if the symptoms of both hypothyroid and fluoride poisoning are virtually the same.
Mrs Ruth Hunt, UK England
Fluoridation is dangerous and unnecessary. Evidence from New Zealand and other countries shows that it is even bad for teeth. Fluoridation is being rejected all over Europe. If it is imposed in the UK it will be yet another example of the government doing the chemical industry's bidding. Local communities must let politicians, health authorities and water companies know that fluoridation is not wanted and that they will be held personally responsible for the inevitable damage to peoples health that would follow.
Patrick Holdsworth, UK
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