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

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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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. 

What is included under the NHS Dentistry Recovery Plan? 

The measures announced by the government include:

  • An extra £15 for dentists on top of the standard payment of £28 for seeing a patient who has not visited a dentist for two years
  • An increase of up to £50 per patient needing complex work
  • Up to 240 NHS dentists — around 1 per cent of the workforce — will be paid a £20,000 ‘golden hello’ bonus to encourage them to work in under-served areas for three years
  • Mobile dental teams will visit schools in deprived areas to provide advice and deliver fluoride varnish treatments to more than 165,000 pupils 
  • Mobile dental services in rural and coastal areas with poor dental coverage
  • Expansion of water fluoridation to new parts of the country to help prevent tooth decay
  • Family hubs will educate parents on how to protect their baby’s gums and milk teeth. 
  • Nurseries will teach children to see toothbrushing as part of their daily routine, as part of a ‘Smile for Life’ scheme 

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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.’

The plan also states that despite the benefits of fluoridation to public dental health there has been no ‘significant’ expansion of the scheme since the 1980s.

It noted that only one in 10 people in England are drinking water containing the mineral, compared to almost three in four in Ireland and the US, and 9 in 10 Australians. 

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 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

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

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. 

While the more serious dangers of fluoridation are a point of contention one minor risk that is known is fluorosis.

This where a a child has too much fluoride while their teeth are developing and causes very white lines to appear on the tooth when when mild and discolouration of the teeth when severe.

It is partly for this reason that the World Health Organization recommends that fluoride in drinking supply should not go above 1.5 mg/l.

The risk of fluorosis in the UK is considered low due because fluoride levels in drinking water are carefully monitored in Britain. 

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

Other parts of PM Rishi Sunak’s bold blueprint plan to to improve dental care in England include fixing the NHS dentist appointments crisis plaguing millions.

Under the plan dentists will be offered up to £50 to see patients who haven’t had a check-up in the last two years. 

Up to 240 dentists willing relocate to the nation’s ‘dental deserts’, where people struggle to get appointments, will also be paid a £20,000 ‘golden hello’ to do so. 

But the plan — unveiled 10 months after it was promised — has been slammed by dental bosses and politicians for not going far enough, with one saying that it amounted to ‘rearranging the deckchairs’. 

Health leaders instead called for ‘radical reform’ of the dental contract, which governs how much dentists are paid for doing NHS work, accusing Mr Sunak of U-turning on his pledge to restore the crippled industry. 

The crisis in NHS dentistry has been brewing for years, with some Brits forced to pull out their own teeth with pliers or travel abroad to see a dentist due to a lack of slots in the UK. 

One even went to war-stricken Ukraine because it was half the price of paying privately. 

Others have queued from 4am to gain a spot at dentistry practices that have opened up their list to NHS patients. 

Shocking pictures of hundreds of desperate Brits queuing outside a newly-opened practice in Bristol this week were described as being ‘reminiscent of Soviet-era Eastern Europe’. 

The queue, which lasted for six hours on its first day and then continued for a second day, eventually saw dozens of patients turned away as the practice had run out of patient slots. 

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