According to a study, fluoride in water is of limited use due to improvements in toothpastes

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A new study suggests that adding fluoride to the water supply has modest benefits for children’s dental health.

The mineral strengthens tooth enamel, but because of improvements in toothpastes over the past 50 years, the improvement in oral health from adding it to water has declined significantly, according to a study from the universities of Manchester and Cambridge.

But the researchers believe it is still a cost-effective way to cut the NHS’s annual dental bill of £1.7 billion.

About 10 per cent of the English population lives in areas with water fluoridation. Last year, former Health Minister Sajid Javid announced plans to introduce a national water fluoridation program.

The study followed nearly 3,000 children in Cumbria for six years.

A new study suggests that adding fluoride to the water supply has modest benefits for children's dental health

A new study suggests that adding fluoride to the water supply has modest benefits for children’s dental health

She studied a younger group from western Cumbria, born after water fluoridation was reintroduced into the water supply in 2013, to ensure they were receiving the full benefits.

A second, older group, about five years in actual history, was studied for its benefits to teeth already in the mouth.

The results were then compared with children from the rest of Cumbria, where the water does not contain fluoride.

They found that 17.4 percent of young children had cavities, fillings or missing baby teeth in fluoridated areas.

That’s compared to 21.4 percent for peers in non-fluoridated areas, according to results published in the journal Public Health Research.

Meanwhile, in the older group, 19.1 percent of children in fluoridated areas had caries, filled in, or lost permanent teeth, compared to 21.9 percent of children in non-fluoridated areas.

Last year, former Health Minister Sajid Javid (pictured) announced plans to introduce a national water fluoridation program

Last year, former Health Minister Sajid Javid (pictured) announced plans to introduce a national water fluoridation program

Funded by the research arm of the NHS – the National Institute for Health and Care Research – it was the first to look at the impact of a water fluoridation scheme in the UK since fluoridated toothpaste became widely available in the 1970s.

Dr Michaela Goodwin, from the University of Manchester, said: ‘While water fluoridation is likely to be inexpensive and has shown improvement in oral health, it should be considered along with other options, particularly when disease is concentrated in certain groups.

“Tooth decay is a non-trivial disease, which is why taking action to combat it is so important.”

One in four five-year-olds in England suffers from tooth decay, and tooth decay is the leading cause of hospitalization for children aged 5-9 years.

In 2020, about 35,190 children were hospitalized to have decayed teeth removed.

Research by Public Health England suggests that adding fluoride to water would roughly halve the number of hospital admissions for tooth decay in young adults.

Last year, former Health Minister Sajid Javid announced plans to introduce a national water fluoridation program that would cost millions.

Professor Mike Kelly, a senior member of the University of Cambridge research team, said: “They (officials) can now make this decision based on the most recent information, not the 40-year-old data that is really important.”