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Ask the Dentist: It's time we added flouride to drinking water in Northern Ireland

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast, says research, and the experience of other countries, shows that artificially flouridating drinking water benefits public oral health

Flouride had been safely added to public drinking water in places including the Republic for decades to cut down on tooth decay

LOCAL authorities from across the UK should add fluoride to water supplies, following new research which confirms it has no negative effects.

According to the American Fluoridation Society, a study led by researchers at the National Toxicology Program in the United States, where 80 per cent of water is fluoridated, "has found no link between elevated levels of fluoride and cognitive/learning deficits".

The UK's Oral Health Foundation is calling for the introduction of widespread community fluoridation schemes, a move they believe will help protect millions from tooth decay.

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that helps oral health by strengthening the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to tooth decay. It is found in many foods and in all drinking water but usually at levels too low to be beneficial to a person’s oral health.

The National Health and Medical Research Council found children and teenagers who had lived in areas with water fluoridation had 26-44 per cent fewer teeth or surfaces affected by decay, and adults had 27 per cent less tooth decay.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), named fluoridation of drinking water to prevent tooth decay as one of ‘Ten Great Public Health Interventions of the 20th Century’.

More than 5,000 children are admitted to hospitals in Northern Ireland to have multiple teeth extracted each year – costing the health service an estimated £9 million. Many very young children are waiting months, crying and distressed waiting to have their teeth removed. These children are often untreatable in general practice. This situation needs to change.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, says water fluoridation is a safe and highly effective way to significantly reduce health inequalities across the UK.

“We believe that the findings from the National Toxicology Program, alongside the Public Health England report, demonstrates conclusively how the introduction of water fluoridation can dramatically decrease the number of children suffering from tooth decay, reduce the huge inequalities that exist and improve the quality of live for millions of people across the UK,” says Dr Carter.

NI Water does not add fluoride to drinking water in Northern Ireland. Your local supply, however, may contain naturally occurring fluoride that is found in underlying rock strata from where it finds its way into river, lakes and reservoirs. Responsibility for fluoridation of the public water supply is ultimately a matter for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS.)

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