The British government recently stated that it will add fluoride to water in England and Wales to reduce tooth decay. Parliament is passing a bill to support this. The chief medical officers of all four countries in the UK expressed support for this move, suggesting that Scotland and Northern Ireland might take similar actions.
Tooth decay is a very common disease. In England, this is the most common cause of hospitalization for children between 6 and 10 years of age. Tooth decay is caused by eating too much refined sugar and not brushing your teeth sufficiently, which leads to the accumulation of dental plaque. It can cause holes in the teeth (decayed teeth), tooth abscesses and tooth loss. Although anyone can experience tooth decay, it has a disproportionate impact on low-income people. Tooth decay also means that nearly 40,000 children need to have their teeth extracted each year-the NHS costs 65 million pounds.
Addressing the problem of tooth decay will not only mean fewer people suffer from complications, it will also reduce the burden on NHS services and allow funds to be reused for other services. Expanding the water fluorination program is an effective way to achieve this goal.
Prevent tooth decay
About 25 countries around the world have added fluoride to drinking water. In the UK, 6 million people have fluoride in their water supply-either because of the local water fluorination program or because the drinking water in their area naturally contains high levels of fluoride.
Fluoride is a mineral naturally present in water, and its content varies depending on where you live. It makes teeth stronger and is proven to reduce tooth decay, which is why it is often added to toothpaste and mouthwashes. Since 1964, parts of the UK have also added it to drinking water. Studies have shown that only 1 milligram of fluoride per liter of water can solve the problem of tooth decay.
Studies have shown that in 5-year-old children living in impoverished communities, adding fluoride to the water can reduce tooth decay by 28%—making them less likely to need a tooth extraction in the hospital by about 50%. In richer regions, fluoride in water reduced tooth decay by 17%.
However, in addition to the proposal to add fluoride to the drinking water of more people, there are concerns about the safety of fluoride—especially among those who think it can cause serious harm, such as cancer and birth defects. , Thyroid problems and nervous system damage. Although some studies claim to show a link between fluoride and a range of hazards, these studies have not afforded academic review, mainly because they did not carefully consider other factors that may affect the results-such as smoking, obesity or age.
There is no reliable scientific evidence that adding very small amounts of fluoride to water can cause cancer or other diseases. But we do have sufficient evidence that fluoride can effectively reduce tooth decay and is a safe method. In England, the government needs to regularly report on the health of people living in fluorinated areas. The latest report on the safety of fluoride has once again found that using fluoride in water has significant benefits-and there is no evidence that it is harmful to your health.
In other words, fluoride in drinking water (and toothpaste, if swallowed) may cause spots on permanent teeth (dental fluorosis). This is usually mild, and studies conducted in England have not shown that fluoridated areas have higher levels of severe dental fluorosis and higher levels of dissatisfaction with the appearance of teeth compared to non-fluorinated areas. There may be bone development problems (called skeletal fluorosis). But this only applies to places where the natural fluoride content in the water is very high-sometimes up to ten times the fluoride content in the fluorination program. In countries that control fluoride content in water, neither of these situations is a problem.
More than 400 million people worldwide drink fluoride-containing water, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. These countries have not reported any harmful effects of fluoride. In the UK, children living in fluoridated areas such as Birmingham and Newcastle have lower rates of tooth decay and fewer hospitalizations due to dental problems.
Tooth decay remains a major burden for people and the NHS. In other parts of the UK, adding fluoride to water will be a safe and effective way to improve the dental health of many people.
This article has been revised to clarify that the bill giving the British government responsibility for water fluorination only applies to England and Wales.