August 15, 2008

‘Mass Medication’ Back With Fluoride

By dave blackhurst

Dental experts are reviving their efforts to add fluoride to North Staffordshire's drinking water.

They have commissioned a feasibility study from Severn Trent to see if the chemical can be added and how much it will cost. Previous attempts to add fluoride have been ditched because of protests, technical difficulties and wrangles between public bodies. The results of the study should be available by the end of the year. The plan is included in a five-year strategy - Improving Oral Health - published by Stoke-on-Trent Primary Care Trust.

Any scheme would need to be adopted across North Staffordshire bringing it in line with the rest of the West Midlands where 80 per cent of the population drink water with fluoride added at one part per million.

But John Davis, chairman of Stoke-on-Trent City Council's consumer protection committee, pictured, said: "If the PCT tries to go ahead with this mass medication, they will meet opposition."

Tooth decay is so bad in the Potteries that by their fifth birthday, 46 per cent of children can expect to have had four teeth extracted or filled. That puts the area in the worst five of 30 West Midlands health districts with the northern half of the city at the bottom of the league.

Kate Taylor-Weetman, dental public health consultant for the city, said: "Many of these children will have suffered pain and discomfort as a result of tooth decay.

"For these, their first experience of dental care will have been extraction under general anaesthetic."

Just five million people in England and Wales regularly come into contact with fluoride. Following the feasibility study, West Midlands Strategic Health Authority would have to carry out a public consultation.

If approved, PCTs would pay the running costs of treatment schemes with plant installation and equipment funded by the NHS capital programme.

Dr Taylor-Weetman said: "The PCT needs to consider all the options."

Attempts to add fluoride date back to the 1970s but failed because of protests about health risks and wrangling between the NHS and water companies over indemnity in case of side-effects. Difficulties also arose because North Staffordshire's supply comes from bore holes in the water table.

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