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Friday, 6 October, 2000, 07:11 GMT 08:11 UK
Fluoride in water 'benefits health'
Water
Fluoride is not added to all water supplies in the UK
A major UK study has found that adding fluoride to water supplies does have significant health benefits.

The long-awaited research, by the NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD), found that water fluoridation was linked to a reduction in tooth decay.

It also found no "clear evidence" that it was linked to any health problems - despite previous claims of a link to cancer, Downs Syndrome and the bone disease osteoarthritis.

The water companies themselves are keen to relinquish their statutory right to say whether water supplies should have fluoride added.

Water UK director of communciations, Barrie Clarke said: "This needs sorting out once and for all. Decisions on whether to fluoridate a water supply should rest entirely with the health authority."

However, the Department of Health, while welcoming the findings of the report, has stopped short of promising legislation.

And opponents of fluoridation claim the research is biased.

In a separate piece of research, US scientists have found that long-term exposure to fluoridation may reduce the risk of fractures of the hip and vertebrae in older women.

Teeth
Fluoride reduces tooth decay
A 1999 White Paper on public health contained a pledge that if the CRD review confirmed the benefits of fluoridation, ministers would consider introducing a legal obligation on water companies to fluoridate water supplies - subject to agreement from the local population.

But Health Minister Lord Hunt said: "The findings show that water fluoridation improves dental health and the government will be encouraging health authorities with particular dental health problems to consider fluoridating their water.

"We will be having further discussions with the water companies and local authorities about water fluoridation."

Lord Hunt said further good quality research was required to strengthen the currently available evidence.

Study findings

The CRD study found that children living in fluoridated areas suffered an average of 15% less tooth decay compared to those living in non-fluoridated areas.

Children in fluoridated areas had a lower average number of decayed, missing and filled teeth, and a greater proportion were completely free of decay.

This is mass medication without consent

Jane Jones, Campaign for Pure Water

The researchers also found that fluoridation did lead to an increased level of mottled teeth - a condition known as fluorosis.

The higher the concentration of fluoride in the water, the greater the number of people who suffered from the condition.

However, the researchers, writing in the British Medical Journal, stress that fluorisis has no impact on health.

They found no clear evidence of other potential adverse affects.

Campaigners welcome report

The research was welcomed by the National Alliance for Equity in Dental Health.

It says young children living in the poorest, non-fluoridated communities continue to suffer unacceptably high levels of tooth decay.

Five-year-old children in non-fluoridated Manchester suffer three times more tooth decay and three times more extractions than those in Birmingham where the water has been fluoridated for almost 40 years.

The National Alliance issued a statement, in which it said: "The Alliance will now be pressing the government to act on its White Paper pledge to introduce new legislation to ensure that decisions about fluoridation are taken by local communities, not water companies."

At present, water companies have the final say about local fluoridation proposals due to a loophole in the 1985 Water (Fluoridation) Act.

Currently in the UK, only around 10% of the population benefit from a fluoridated water supply.

The BDA recommends that coverage in the UK should be extended to reach 25-30% of the population, and targeted to those areas where tooth decay rates are unacceptably high.

These areas include the West of Scotland, the North West and parts of the North East of England, parts of Wales, Inner London, and Northern Ireland.

Opposition

Environmentalists oppose widespread water fluoridation on the grounds that it could damage the environment.

Jane Jones, director of the Campaign for Pure Water, told the BBC that the review had excluded many studies which indicated that fluoride damaged health.

She said: "Over 100 studies were submitted by parents of fluoride-poisoned children to the review and the criteria were narrowed and they were excluded - it is not good enough.

"This is mass medication without consent. People should call for a public inquiry."

A spokeswoman for the National Pure Water Association said the study had done little to prove the benefits of fluoridation.

She said: "The report shows that claimed reductions in tooth decay are infinitely less than the public has been told."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Concar
"The government says it will be encouraging more health authorities to add fluoride to water"
Report author, Professor Yos Kleijnen
"We looked at the research which has been published over the last 50 years"
Water fluoridation review
Argue about the merits of the review
See also:

09 Apr 00 | Health
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